Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Gone to APSA -- go read something else I've written.

I'll be at the American Political Science Association annual meeting for the next couple of days. Posting may be light. Rookie APSA attendees should read click here.

In the meantime, devoted fans of can click here to read my just-released book from the Council on Foreign Relations, U.S. Trade Strategy: Free Versus Fair. From the press release:

While policymakers agree that promoting trade expansion serves U.S. national interests, they disagree on how to accomplish this goal. U.S.Trade Strategy: Free Versus Fair, by Tufts University’s Daniel W. Drezner, is a primer on trade policy. Written as a policy memo to an American president, this Council Critical Policy Choice (CPC), published by CFR press, does not argue for a particular policy but outlines two distinct options.

The “free trade” approach seeks to ensure the full realization of the economic and political benefits of free trade. It recommends a renewed commitment to the success of the Doharound of trade negotiations through top-level U.S.involvement in the negotiations and a willingness to resist domestic political pressures regarding issues such as outsourcing, textiles, and agriculture.

The “fair trade” approach seeks to balance the economic benefits of free trade with other values—community stability and income security, for instance—even at the cost of foregoing some of the benefits of trade. This approach recommends a tougher stance, in trade negotiations and in Congress, to ensure receptivity to American exports and to stem the tide of outsourcing and other potential threats to U.S.interests.

“Trade has become one of the most significant and controversial subjects in the international arena,” said Council President Richard N. Haass. “It is also one of the most complex. This book provides students, professors, and others a basic text that will help them better understand the many dimensions of trade policy and help them sort out where they stand on this critical issue.”

In addition to presenting these two alternatives, the book includes background papers on four recurring challenges to U.S. trade policy: balancing America’s trade and current account deficits, managing the intersection of trade policy and issues such as intellectual property and labor standards, supporting workers adversely affected by trade, and harmonizing the multiple tracks of trade diplomacy. The resulting product is a compact, accessible volume on the substance and politics of trade policy.

If you want to save yourself some dough and download the whole thing as a .pdf file, then click here.

Curious Fletcher students who have stumbled onto the blog can also get a sneak preview of my (still subject to last-minute changes) syllabus for DHP P217 -- Global Political Economy -- by clicking here.

posted by Dan at 06:22 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

You try changing the distribution of power in the IMF!!

Steven Weisman has a story in today's New York Times on U.S. efforts to rejigger the governance of the International Monetary Fund:

In an effort to gain Chinese cooperation on international economic issues, the Bush administration is pushing for China and other developing nations to get more power in the global institution that has played a central role in easing myriad financial crises since the end of World War II.

But the American-led effort to increase influence at the International Monetary Fund for China — and for South Korea, Turkey and Mexico, as well — is being resisted by several countries in Europe, which would lose power to those who would be gaining it....

At the same time, the administration is urging China to take on a greater role in promoting an open global trading system by helping restart the aborted trade talks sponsored by the World Trade Organization....

China is a particular focus of American interests because of the Bush administration’s uneasy relationship with the Beijing government and its desire for China to become a “stakeholder” in the international system, as American officials put it....

Critics of the Bush administration in Congress are calling on it to rebuff China’s demand for more power at the I.M.F. until Beijing revalues its currency in relation to the dollar.

But Mr. Adams and other American officials say that rather than limit China’s influence at the I.M.F., they want to increase its role there and make the lending institution a more aggressive monitor of currency manipulation by member nations.

“I would argue that by re-engineering the I.M.F. and giving China a bigger voice,” Mr. Adams said, “China will have a greater sense of responsibility for the institution’s mission.”

The initial proposed increases for China, South Korea, Turkey and Mexico in voting weight and quotas — which entitle members to more borrowing in emergencies — is viewed by Washington as a “down payment” for future changes increasing the power of many other countries, including oil-producing nations....

The American approach on the I.M.F. is seen as somewhat similar to the kind of changes officials want at the United Nations Security Council, where veto power is retained by the club of victors in World War II that are permanent members of the Council: the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France. Washington wants to expand the permanent membership to include Japan and at least one major developing country.

Voting at the I.M.F. is determined in part by a quota system that calculates how much a country must contribute to the fund and how much it can borrow in emergencies. The United States has 30 percent of the world economy but only a 17 percent share of the quota system....

[M]any recipients of the 1990’s bailouts are now sitting on large reserves that can be used to help other countries in the future. The American approach is to enlist these countries in maintaining an international system rather than having them go their own way.

There are a lot of interesting theoretical and policy debates wrapped up in this story:
1) Is it possible to smoothly reconfigure the distribution of power in an international governmental oganization (IGO)? Recent efforts to do so in the U.N. Security Council have borne little fruit -- because the losers from such a change will use their institutional prerogatives to resist such changes.

2) In terms of the distribution of interests, the U.S. is generally better off with European countries wielding disproportionate amounts of power in IGOs. The gamble here seems to be that by offering more influence to China and other advanced developing countries, there will be no radical break with the current rules of the game. Is this a belated example of John Ikenberry's "binding" strategy?

3) In terms of global governance, there is a contradiction at the heart of the EU's attempts to forge a common foreign and security policy. The more cohesive the EU looks, the greater its perceived power -- butpart of that power lies in the fact that EU countries hold individual votes in a lot of IGOs. If a common foreign policy comes to fruition, at what point should the EU be given a single vote rather than the 25 votes the members currently possess?

4) What will the content of the IMF's policies look like if China and other developing countries acquire greater sway?

5) Will the tacit grand bargain between the U.S. and China -- China acquiring greater influence within IGOs, China modifying its economic policies to assuage American concerns -- actually take place? 6) If I had told you five years ago that Weisman would write the following sentence:

But because the I.M.F. has not recently had a major crisis, some economists joke that with little to do, board members have the luxury of squabbling among themselves for power over an organization with an ill-defined mission.
would you have believed me?

posted by Dan at 08:50 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Tom Lantos steps into a big foreign policy snafu

Many thanks to Greg Djerejian, Bill Petti, and (especially) Eugene Gholz for articulating why Representative Tom Lantos (D-CA) is f***ing up U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, saving me time and effort.

posted by Dan at 08:49 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

The lost act of Waiting for Godot

My diavlog with Mickey Kaus is now available at Among the topics discussed: Hezbollah, Ana Marie Cox's literary style, rational choice theory, Paris Hilton, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Kaus' declining stock as a pundit, sacred beliefs, immigration, Wal-Mart, and the best way to watch [Did you say Paris Hilton?--ed. Yes, click here if you want to jump to that part of the conversation.]

As for the title of this post, click here for an explanation.

UPDATE: Incidentally, here is the New York Times story on immigration that I discuss in the diavlog. What I say about the percentage of immigrants being Mexican is incorrect. I'm actually glad I'm wrong about this, I might add.

posted by Dan at 07:35 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

How bad was Hezbollah hurt?

Last month I posted the following caveat to my blogging about the Lebanon conflict:

[I]it is possible that Hezbollah has suffered far greater losses than we know. There is an asymmetry in the reporting of the conflict -- reporters clearly have much greater access to the Israeli military than Hezbollah. While it's in both sides' interest to keep published reports of their losses to a minimum, it's institutionally tougher for Israel to do this.

As a result, the Israeli losses are known -- the Hezbollah losses are not completely known.

So the war is over now -- how bad was Hezbollah hurt?

I still don't know the answer. According to Greg Djerejian, Hezbollah has acted so swiftly to reconstruct and rebuild the affected portions of Lebanon that, "Hizbollah's vast independent network undermines the state and encourages criticism of the cash-strapped central government."

On the other hand, according to Michael Totten, Hezbollah is acting in a quite chastened manner in South Lebanon:

[T]he most recent development in Hezbollah’s post-war saga is frankly humiliating.
Hizbullah has dismantled 14 outposts on the Israel-Lebanon border near the Shaba Farms, Lebanese security sources said Monday.

Reportedly, the group evacuated the posts using trucks to carry artillery, other weapons and military equipment, while bulldozers blocked access to tunnels and bunkers.

Witnesses said that the vehicles laden with weapons and other military equipment were headed northward.

A French news agency reported that the Lebanese army had deployed troops along the border with Syria and that its soldiers had blocked routes used by weapons smugglers.

I challenge my readers to parse out these contradictory developments.

UPDATE: Below is an extract from an e-mail relayed to me by someone within the "defense establishment" -- make of it what you will:

1. All serious military analysts in the US, Iran and Israel understand that Hezbollah suffered an enormous defeat on the battlefield.

2. However, Hezbollah’s military branch developed a technique to nullify the tactic that the IDF normally uses in cross-border raids. Specifically, the IDF often conducts raids by quickly sending in a platoon backed up by a few tanks/mobile armor units. By arming their fighters with anti-tank weapons, Hezbollah nullified the tank advantage. By using tunnels, they were able to surprise the IDF infantry and evade reprisal.

3. In response, IDF changed tactics. Specifically, they activated massive reserves and then flooded the areas with troops. This nullifies the Hezbollah technique because the IDF could cut retreat routes, block routes to other tunnels, and can quickly kill the people who pop out of tunnels. In short, after you take a cheap shot at the IDF and you try to run, you will encounter more IDF.

4. In the last days, when the IDF called its reserves, Hezbollah lost much ground and was powerless to stop most IDF actions.

5. Also, the strategy of distributing rockets throughout the population is very effective for publicity. Though the rockets themselves cause relatively little damage and have little effective military use, they are easy to use, hard to stop and are sensational (in the sense that they bring attention).

posted by Dan at 11:31 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, August 28, 2006

A post in which I make several calls for action

I see that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is in the Middle East and asking everyone to behave nicely:

Secretary-General Kofi Annan, currently in Beirut on the first leg of his shuttle diplomacy to the Middle East, has called on Israel to lift its blockade of Lebanon and urged Hizbollah to free two captured Israeli soldiers.

Mr. Annan made his remarks after meeting Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and his cabinet to further discuss implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 that ended the recent month-long conflict between Hizbollah and Israel.

“The Secretary-General… called for the lifting of the Israeli blockade and the return of the Israeli soldiers. He also stressed the importance of having ‘one law, one authority and one gun’ in Lebanon,” United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York.

Let me add my call to Mr. Annan's.

[And what will that accomplish?--ed. Nothing... which is pretty much what Kofi's request will accomplish. Hmmm..... while I'm at it, in the interest of international goodwill and peace I urgently call on Salma Hayek to meet with me, sans advisors, for at least two six uninterrupted hours.]

If this Financial Times story by Roula Khalaf and Sharmila Devi is correct, I doubt Hezbollah will be listening to Annan anytime soon: "when he toured the devastated areas in the southern Beirut suburbs, Mr Annan was booed by some of the group’s supporters who held pictures of Hassan Nasrallah, the Hizbollah chief."

posted by Dan at 10:16 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)


From Mickey Kaus:

If you haven't been called by a booker to appear on TV all year, and you are not called to appear this weekend--even by a cable channel, even by FOX, even on Saturday--it's fair to say that you will never be called.
But, but, but..... I just got a new suit!!

[Don't worry, like Mickey you don't need them--ed.]

posted by Dan at 08:34 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

The ultimate Nth year

Anyone getting a Ph.D. knows about nth years. These are graduate students who have been around so long that no other student possess the institutional memory to know when they entered the doctoral program. Nth years serve the very useful purpose of scaring the living crap out of the other graduate students, motivating them to finish their dissertations before they unwittingly morph into an nth year themselves.

There are nth years, and at the University of Chicago, there are nth years:

After a long and fruitful career, 79-year-old master’s degree graduate Herbert Baum has returned to the University of Chicago to earn his Ph.D. The oldest person ever to be awarded a doctorate by the University, Baum will receive the degree in economics Friday, Aug. 25.

When he left the University in 1951 to become a government agricultural economist in Washington, D.C., Baum had a master’s degree and was just short of writing his dissertation to earn a doctorate.

His dissertation contributes to agricultural economics by examining how to measure the impact of fees charged producers for commodity promotion and research. The thesis, based on a case study of the strawberry industry in California in which he was a leader, developed a model for researchers to understand the long-term value of the fees assessed growers. The model shows how the policies of the state strawberry commission, which supported research into improved varieties, improved production per acre and grower profitability.

James Heckman, the Henry Scultz Distinguished Service Professor in Economics at the University of Chicago and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2000, was a member of a committee that also included two other Nobel Prizes. Heckman said of Baum’s work, “Herb Baum’s Ph. D. thesis is a well executed study of an industry partially monopolized by government authority. His application of basic price theory to understand the consequences of this policy is in the best tradition of empirical price theory at Chicago. He combines theory with evidence in a convincing way in a serious piece of research on a major agricultural industry.”

Quite the dissertation committee:
[Milton] Friedman, the Snowden Russell Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Economics, was one of the faculty members who approved granting Baum a Ph.D. Joining Friedman on the committee were Nobel Prize-winning economists Gary Becker, University Professor in Economics, and committee chair James Heckman. Roger Myerson, the William C. Norby Professor in Economics, also served on the committee.

Baum based his dissertation on his life’s work and titled it: “Quest for the Perfect Strawberry; A Case Study of the California Strawberry Commission and the Strawberry Industry: A Descriptive Model for Marketing Order Evaluation”.

To be fair soon-to-be-Dr. Baum, he's not a true nth year, since he left the university an accomplished something.

Academic readers are invited to share any horror stories they know about nth years.

posted by Dan at 05:05 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Your Katherine Harris update for the week

It appears Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Katherine Harris has stepped into some more hot water, according to the Associated Press:

U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris told a weekly religious journal that God and the nation's founding fathers did not intend the country be "a nation of secular laws" and made other comments that have drawn criticism in recent days.

The Republican candidate for U.S. Senate also said that if Christians are not elected to political office politicians will "legislate sin," citing abortion and gay marriage as two examples in an interview published Thursday.

Harris made the comments - which she clarified Saturday - in the Florida Baptist Witness, the weekly journal of the Florida Baptist State Convention. The publication interviewed political candidates, asking them questions about religion and their positions on issues.

Let's go to the actual Florida Baptist Witness interview to see what she said... yes, yes I believe I have found the problematic answers:
Q: What role do you think people of faith should play in politics and government?

A: The Bible says we are to be salt and light. And salt and light means not just in the church and not just as a teacher or as a pastor or a banker or a lawyer, but in government and we have to have elected officials in government and we have to have the faithful in government and over time, that lie we have been told, the separation of church and state, people have internalized, thinking that they needed to avoid politics and that is so wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers. And if we are the ones not actively involved in electing those godly men and women and if people aren’t involved in helping godly men in getting elected than we’re going to have a nation of secular laws. That’s not what our founding fathers intended and that’s certainly isn’t what God intended. So it’s really important that members of the church know people’s stands....

Q: Why should Florida Baptists care about this primary election?

A: ....the real issue is why should Baptists care, why should people care? If you are not electing Christians, tried and true, under public scrutiny and pressure, if you’re not electing Christians then in essence you are going to legislate sin. They can legislate sin. They can say that abortion is alright. They can vote to sustain gay marriage. And that will take western civilization, indeed other nations because people look to our country as one nation as under God and whenever we legislate sin and we say abortion is permissible and we say gay unions are permissible, then average citizens who are not Christians, because they don’t know better, we are leading them astray and it’s wrong. ...

Harris' campaign has issued a "statement of clarification" in response to the brouhaha:
In the interview, Harris was speaking to a Christian audience, addressing a common misperception that people of faith should not be actively involved in government. Addressing this Christian publication, Harris provided a statement that explains her deep grounding in Judeo-Christian values.
The statement would also appear to explain her shallow grounding in American history.

[This entire post was just an excuse to link to this Ana Marie Cox post, wasn't it?--ed. Nolo contendre.]

posted by Dan at 08:11 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Bernanke on globalization

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke gave an interesting speech entitled, "Global Economic Integration: What's New and What's Not?" that's worth a gander. Here's his answer to what's new:

Each observer will have his or her own perspective, but, to me, four differences between the current wave of global economic integration and past episodes seem most important. First, the scale and pace of the current episode is unprecedented. For example, in recent years, global merchandise exports have been above 20 percent of world gross domestic product, compared with about 8 percent in 1913 and less than 15 percent as recently as 1990; and international financial flows have expanded even more quickly. But these data understate the magnitude of the change that we are now experiencing. The emergence of China, India, and the former communist-bloc countries implies that the greater part of the earth's population is now engaged, at least potentially, in the global economy. There are no historical antecedents for this development. Columbus's voyage to the New World ultimately led to enormous economic change, of course, but the full integration of the New and the Old Worlds took centuries. In contrast, the economic opening of China, which began in earnest less than three decades ago, is proceeding rapidly and, if anything, seems to be accelerating.

Second, the traditional distinction between the core and the periphery is becoming increasingly less relevant, as the mature industrial economies and the emerging-market economies become more integrated and interdependent. Notably, the nineteenth-century pattern, in which the core exported manufactures to the periphery in exchange for commodities, no longer holds, as an increasing share of world manufacturing capacity is now found in emerging markets. An even more striking aspect of the breakdown of the core-periphery paradigm is the direction of capital flows: In the nineteenth century, the country at the center of the world's economy, Great Britain, ran current account surpluses and exported financial capital to the periphery. Today, the world's largest economy, that of the United States, runs a current-account deficit, financed to a substantial extent by capital exports from emerging-market nations.

Third, production processes are becoming geographically fragmented to an unprecedented degree.4 Rather than producing goods in a single process in a single location, firms are increasingly breaking the production process into discrete steps and performing each step in whatever location allows them to minimize costs. For example, the U.S. chip producer AMD locates most of its research and development in California; produces in Texas, Germany, and Japan; does final processing and testing in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and China; and then sells to markets around the globe. To be sure, international production chains are not entirely new: In 1911, Henry Ford opened his company's first overseas factory in Manchester, England, to be closer to a growing source of demand. The factory produced bodies for the Model A automobile, but imported the chassis and mechanical parts from the United States for assembly in Manchester. Although examples like this one illustrate the historical continuity of the process of economic integration, today the geographical extension of production processes is far more advanced and pervasive than ever before. As an aside, some interesting economic questions are raised by the fact that in some cases international production chains are managed almost entirely within a single multinational corporation (roughly 40 percent of U.S. merchandise trade is classified as intra-firm) and in others they are built through arm's-length transactions among unrelated firms. But the empirical evidence in both cases suggests that substantial productivity gains can often be achieved through the development of global supply chains.

The final item on my list of what is new about the current episode is that international capital markets have become substantially more mature. Although the net capital flows of a century ago, measured relative to global output, are comparable to those of the present, gross flows today are much larger. Moreover, capital flows now take many more forms than in the past: In the nineteenth century, international portfolio investments were concentrated in the finance of infrastructure projects (such as the American railroads) and in the purchase of government debt. Today, international investors hold an array of debt instruments, equities, and derivatives, including claims on a broad range of sectors. Flows of foreign direct investment are also much larger relative to output than they were fifty or a hundred years ago. As I noted earlier, the increase in capital flows owes much to capital-market liberalization and factors such as the greater standardization of accounting practices as well as to technological advances.

To me, the most astonishing difference is number two.

posted by Dan at 09:19 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

This seems like a good weekend topic

Well, I see the blogosphere is ablaze with talk about this Forbes colum by Michael Noer:

Guys: A word of advice. Marry pretty women or ugly ones. Short ones or tall ones. Blondes or brunettes. Just, whatever you do, don't marry a woman with a career.

Why? Because if many social scientists are to be believed, you run a higher risk of having a rocky marriage....

Not a happy conclusion, especially given that many men, particularly successful men, are attracted to women with similar goals and aspirations. And why not? After all, your typical career girl is well-educated, ambitious, informed and engaged. All seemingly good things, right? Sure…at least until you get married. Then, to put it bluntly, the more successful she is the more likely she is to grow dissatisfied with you. Sound familiar?

Read the whiole thing and then coment away.

I'm shocked, shocked that Noer's article, "provoked a heated response from both outside and inside our building." Indeed, after a few days, Forbes felt compelled to publish a side-by-side rebuttal by Elizabeth Corcoran.

Online reaction from Laura McKenna and Jack Shafer, and on a related topic, Bitch Ph.D. Shafer has the key point:

Forbes' definition of a career woman is extraordinarily broad, including any woman who has a college education, works 35 hours a week, and makes more than $30,000. So, if you define non-career women as all the "undereducated" who work part-time and make less than $30K, it becomes painfully obvious why female careerists are more likely to divorce than non-careerists: They can better afford to get out of an unhappy marriage than their sisters.

That may be bad news for all the schmoes getting dumped, but it's great news for the gals. So, go ahead, young ladies. Get your degree. Even go to grad school. Gun for that corner office if you want to and get the guy. If you divorce, make sure to stick him with the shared subscription to Forbes.

I'm sure both Noer and Shafer would point to this Jacqueline Mackie Massey Paisley post to support this argument.

posted by Dan at 08:49 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, August 25, 2006

Thoughts on Iran and oil

That's what you will hear me pontificate about in PJM's Blog Week in Review podcast. The other participant was Gerard Van Der Leun.

Go check it out.

posted by Dan at 01:18 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Who's afraid of peak oil?

With ever-growing attention to the peak oil question, it's worth observing yet again that the U.S. economy has been astonishingly resilient to the high price of oil. Indeed, if I'm reading this chart correctly, the real price of oil has tripled in the last four years -- easily the highest percentage increase in such a short span of time. Last year I wondered if $70 a barrel for oil would have stagflationary effects -- and the answer so far appears to be no.

Raphael Minder reports in the Financial Times that the global economy could be just as resilient:

The world economy will not face a serious inflation problem even if there is a further significant increase in the price of oil, the governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia said on Thursday.

Ian Macfarlane, whose 10-year tenure makes him one of the world’s longest serving central bank chiefs, said in an interview with the Financial Times that he expected inflation to remain under control even if oil rose above its recent peak of nearly $80 a barrel.

“There is of course a lot of anxiety about oil and a lot of attention given to the issue worldwide. But what I find most relevant is that we have been able to absorb the increase in oil prices reasonably well, in a way nobody would have predicted two or three years ago.”

“We have got from $20 to $77, so if we were to go to $90, and people are saying that then all hell is going to break loose, I really doubt it,” said Mr Macfarlane, who steps down next month.

posted by Dan at 12:14 AM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Text mobs

Mary Jordan has a front-pager in the Washington Post detailing how social movements use text messaging to surmount attempts to contain dissent:

Cellphones and text messaging are changing the way political mobilizations are conducted around the world. From Manila to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, andKathmandu, Nepal, protests once publicized on coffeehouse bulletin boards are now organized entirely through text-messaging networks that can reach vast numbers of people in a matter of minutes.

The technology is also changing the organization and dynamics of protests, allowing leaders to control, virtually minute-by-minute, the movements of demonstrators, like military generals in the field. Using texts that communicate orders instantly, organizers can call for advances or retreats of waves of protesters.

This tool has changed the balance of political power in places where governments have a history of outmuscling dissent. In April, Nepal's King Gyanendra ordered authorities to cut cellphone service after protesters against his absolute rule used text messages to help assemble street protests by tens of thousands of democracy advocates.

The Philippines, widely called the text-messaging center of the world, has led the way. When President Joseph Estrada was forced from office in 2001, he bitterly complained that the popular uprising against him was a "coup de text."

The best part of the story documents a real-time Filipino protest designed to overwhelm the police's ability to disperse it:
At 1:30 p.m. on a recent day, Palatino and three students lingered near the doughnut case in the 7-Eleven on a congested corner of Morayta Street. They stood in the air-conditioned cool, cellphones in hand, waiting for a text....

They knew police had been ordered to disperse unauthorized crowds near the presidential palace and would not hesitate to use wooden batons and water cannons to do it. So organizers wanted to make sure that everyone converged at the same time to make the rally harder to break up.

Soon Palatino's phone was alive with a flurry of texts from coordinators and marchers anxious to start.

One asked: "Are the media here?"

About a dozen TV cameramen and newspaper photographers gathered outside. They, too, had been summoned by text.

At 1:45, Palatino's phone pinged again, this time with the message: "ASSEMBLE RIGHT NOW!"

A smile crossed his face. With a few more taps of his thumbs, he forwarded the command down the text brigade ranks. He sent it to those on his phone list, and each who received it did the same. In seconds, about 1,000 students were in the street, stopping traffic and sending cars and bicycle taxis scattering.

Two students quickly hooked up a public address system to the battery of a vehicle. One by one, leaders climbed on top of it to fire up the crowd. Palatino demanded that President Arroyo do more to end the [unsolved] killings and allocate more money for universities.

"Books, not bullets!" he shouted.

The all-at-once strategy worked: The police were caught off guard. Only a few officers were on the scene, and they quickly pulled out their own cellphones to make urgent voice calls.

Note to self: add to paper on IT's effect on state-society relations.

posted by Dan at 08:22 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

The Howard Cosell of international news

I am happy to cross the partisan divide and state for the record that I am in 100% agreement with Matthew Yglesias:

I'm not sure if you guys know who Richard Quest is, but suffice it to say that based on my rather small level of watching CNN International while traveling he's far and away the most annoying television news personality on the planet.
Naturally, Quest got his own monthly interview show, ‘Quest’, in July.

And if I was the head of CNN, I'd do the same thing -- Quest's voice, mannerisms, and teeth are so.... grating that the overall effect is hypnotic. Whenever I catch him in my travels, it requires a concerted effort to change the channel.

posted by Dan at 05:54 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Those dirty Polynesian rats

I'm a big fan of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, and still need to read his sequel, Collapse. However, Terry L. Hunt has an essay in the latest issue of The American Scientist that calls into question Diamond's central case study in Collapse -- the decline and fall of the Rapa Nui on Easter Island:

In the prevailing account of the island's past, the native inhabitants—who refer to themselves as the Rapanui and to the island as Rapa Nui—once had a large and thriving society, but they doomed themselves by degrading their environment. According to this version of events, a small group of Polynesian settlers arrived around 800 to 900 A.D., and the island's population grew slowly at first. Around 1200 A.D., their growing numbers and an obsession with building moai led to increased pressure on the environment. By the end of the 17th century, the Rapanui had deforested the island, triggering war, famine and cultural collapse.

Jared Diamond, a geographer and physiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, has used Rapa Nui as a parable of the dangers of environmental destruction. "In just a few centuries," he wrote in a 1995 article for Discover magazine, "the people of Easter Island wiped out their forest, drove their plants and animals to extinction, and saw their complex society spiral into chaos and cannibalism. Are we about to follow their lead?" In his 2005 book Collapse, Diamond described Rapa Nui as "the clearest example of a society that destroyed itself by overexploiting its own resources."

Two key elements of Diamond's account are the large number of Polynesians living on the island and their propensity for felling trees. He reviews estimates of the island's native population and says that he would not be surprised if it exceeded 15,000 at its peak. Once the large stands of palm trees were all cut down, the result was "starvation, a population crash, and a descent into cannibalism." When Europeans arrived in the 18th century, they found only a small remnant of this civilization....

When I first went to Rapa Nui to conduct archaeological research, I expected to help confirm this story. Instead, I found evidence that just didn't fit the underlying timeline. As I looked more closely at data from earlier archaeological excavations and at some similar work on other Pacific islands, I realized that much of what was claimed about Rapa Nui's prehistory was speculation. I am now convinced that self-induced environmental collapse simply does not explain the fall of the Rapanui.

Radiocarbon dates from work I conducted with a colleague and a number of students over the past several years and related paleoenvironmental data point to a different explanation for what happened on this small isle. The story is more complex than usually depicted.

The first colonists may not have arrived until centuries later than has been thought, and they did not travel alone. They brought along chickens and rats, both of which served as sources of food. More important, however, was what the rats ate. These prolific rodents may have been the primary cause of the island's environmental degradation. Using Rapa Nui as an example of "ecocide," as Diamond has called it, makes for a compelling narrative, but the reality of the island's tragic history is no less meaningful....

There is no reliable evidence that the island's population ever grew as large as 15,000 or more, and the actual downfall of the Rapanui resulted not from internal strife but from contact with Europeans. When Roggeveen landed on Rapa Nui's shores in 1722, a few days after Easter (hence the island's name), he took more than 100 of his men with him, and all were armed with muskets, pistols and cutlasses. Before he had advanced very far, Roggeveen heard shots from the rear of the party. He turned to find 10 or 12 islanders dead and a number of others wounded. His sailors claimed that some of the Rapanui had made threatening gestures. Whatever the provocation, the result did not bode well for the island's inhabitants.

Newly introduced diseases, conflict with European invaders and enslavement followed over the next century and a half, and these were the chief causes of the collapse....

I believe that the world faces today an unprecedented global environmental crisis, and I see the usefulness of historical examples of the pitfalls of environmental destruction. So it was with some unease that I concluded that Rapa Nui does not provide such a model. But as a scientist I cannot ignore the problems with the accepted narrative of the island's prehistory. Mistakes or exaggerations in arguments for protecting the environment only lead to oversimplified answers and hurt the cause of environmentalism. We will end up wondering why our simple answers were not enough to make a difference in confronting today's problems.

Ecosystems are complex, and there is an urgent need to understand them better. Certainly the role of rats on Rapa Nui shows the potentially devastating, and often unexpected, impact of invasive species. I hope that we will continue to explore what happened on Rapa Nui, and to learn whatever other lessons this remote outpost has to teach us.

posted by Dan at 09:24 AM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Can science solve the stem cell debate?

According to the Financial Times' Clive Cookson, there may be a way to end the ethical debate over stem cell research:

Scientists in the US have created human embryonic stem cells without destroying embryos, a discovery that appears to get round a basic ethical objection to stem cell research.

The breakthrough – published online on Thursday by the scientific journal Nature – could help lead to greater public funding for the field and make it more appealing for commercial investment.

Researchers from Advanced Cell Technology, a US biotech group, have generated stem cell cultures by plucking individual cells from newly fertilised embryos, which are not harmed. Stem cell production until now involved taking larger masses of cells from slightly older embryos, which are inevitably lost.

The discovery “has the potential to play a critical role in the advancement of regenerative medicine”, said Ronald Green, director of Dartmouth College’s Ethics Institute and head of ACT’s independent ethics board.

“It appears to be a way out of the political impasse in the US and elsewhere,” Prof Green added. “I see this as a real opportunity for the Bush administration to address the need for embryonic stem cell lines, while maintaining their ethical position that embryos should not be destroyed to obtain them.”

Here's a link to the actual article in Nature.

The FT article does go one to assert that,"hardline critics of embryo research – such as the US Conference of Catholic Bishops – are unlikely to accept the manipulation even of a single embryonic cell, which they say could theoretically become a human being."

Question to readers: assuming that this is a real breakthrough, will it sway a sufficient number of stem cell opponents to render the debate moot?

posted by Dan at 09:50 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Your photo sequences of the day

Click here.

Then click here.

Thank you, Xavier Sala-i-Martin. And thanks to Tyler Cowen for the links.

posted by Dan at 01:46 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

So much for the single-payer utopia

I've said repeatedly on this blog that health care policy puts me to sleep most of the time. I usually stay awake long enough, however, to hear many left-of-center colleagues praise the Canadian single-payer system to no end.

Which is why I bring up this New York Times story by Christopher Mason:

A doctor who operates Canada’s largest private hospital in violation of Canadian law was elected Tuesday to become president of the Canadian Medical Association. The move gives an influential platform to a prominent advocate of increasing privatization of Canada’s troubled taxpayer-financed medical system.

The new president-elect, Dr. Brian Day, has openly run his private hospital in Vancouver even though it accepts money from patients for procedures that are available through the public system, which is illegal.

Dr. Day, who will assume the presidency in August next year, advocates a hybrid health care system similar to those in many European countries....

opposition to private health care has diminished in Canada, in part because waiting times have more than doubled for certain procedures during the last 13 years, according to the Fraser Institute, a conservative research group.

Debate has been especially heated since a ruling by the Supreme Court in June 2005 gave residents of Quebec the right to pursue private treatment if the province could not provide services in a reasonable time.

Since then, Quebec’s premier and the leaders of British Columbia and Alberta have expressed a willingness to consider solutions that include privately paid medical services, in part because of the court decision but also because of the rising cost of providing free health care. On average, provinces spend nearly 45 percent of their budgets on health care.

In the meantime, private health clinics are opening at an average rate of one a week in Canada.

“The Canadian health system is at a point in history right now where it’s going to be reformed in the wake of the Supreme Court decision,” Dr. Day said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “The concept that the status quo is something that we should maintain is wearing thin, with frustrated doctors and frustrated patients.”

Since its formation in the 1960’s, Canada’s publicly financed health insurance system has been at the core of the national identity.

But in recent years, with waiting times growing and costs skyrocketing, the merits of a larger private component to the health care system has not been the taboo topic it once was.

Before I doze off, do check out Megan McArdle's recent health care post as well.

UPDATE: Many commenters -- and Ezra Klein -- have (justifiably) asked where there is praise for the Canadian single-payer system on the left. So, click here, here, here, here, here, and here.

That said, I should also acknowledge that this is hardly the uniform view of left-of-center policy analysts. For critiques of the Canadian system from Democrats, see this post by Ezra Klein.

posted by Dan at 01:27 PM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Wikipedia vs. Brittanica

David Adesnik provides an excellent summary of the relative strengths of each encyclopedia. Key point:

Wikipedia has been able to generate so much content -- 1,000,000 in English, compared to 120,000 for Britannica -- precisely because it has so few rules. As Americans know, it is very dangerous to put limits on free speech when that is the essence of what makes you great. Yet some limits are necessary....

let me just suggest that the purpose of Wikipedia isn't necessarily to replicate or transcend Britannica. Vast swathes of Wikipedia content would be considered far too trivial for a "serious" publication like Britannica....

Some might call this a waste of a labor, but I think it's a very good thing. Most people burn out when they don't waste some time on trivial pursuits. But even trivial pursuits often depend on information.... I say, "Viva Wikipedia!"

posted by Dan at 10:02 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

There's more than one way to measure economic prosperity

Following up on recent posts about economic inequality and Wal-Mart, it should be noted that Virginia Postrel has a great column in Forbes about how government figures likely underestimate the welfare gains among the bottom half of the income ladder:

Nowadays, candid and intelligent people--not to mention partisans--tell us that the average American's standard of living has barely budged in decades. Supposedly only the rich are living better, while everyone else stagnates or falls behind.

And today's gloom peddlers can claim to have scientific data on their side. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median real income of a full-time working male rose only 4% between 1981 and 2001, from $44,000 to $45,900 in today's dollars.

If so, you have to wonder who's buying all those flat-screen TVs, serving precooked rotisserie chicken for dinner or organizing their closets with Elfa systems. "Anybody who thinks things are getting worse should go to Best Buy and notice the type of people who go to Best Buy," says economist Robert J. Gordon of Northwestern University.

Gordon is the author of a much-cited study showing that from 1966 to 2001 real income kept up with productivity gains for only the top 10% of earners. What the pessimists who tout his study don't say is that, while Gordon does find that inequality is increasing, he's convinced that the picture of middle-class stagnation is false.

"The median person has had steadily improving standards of living," he says. But real incomes have been understated. The problem lies in how the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates the cost of living.

Which brings us to Wal-Mart:
Price indexes also haven't kept up with changes in what consumers buy and when and where they shop. Wal-Mart's share of the U.S. grocery market is more than a fifth and is growing. Wal-Mart and other superstores charge up to 27% less for food than traditional supermarkets, estimate economists Jerry Hausman of MIT and Ephraim Leibtag of the Department of Agriculture. But the BLS doesn't factor those lower prices into its inflation estimates. It simply assumes that Wal-Mart's price reflects worse service, and ignores the savings.

Government statisticians, Hausman complains, "want to act like accountants, and they don't want to take economics into account at all."

Using ACNielsen data from 61,500 households, Hausman and Leibtag calculate that grocery shoppers are 20% better off--not the full 27%--with a superstore shopping trip. "So some of the food isn't quite as good or the diversity isn't quite as good," says Hausman. "But you still get a huge boost."

Since groceries make up 12% of household spending and as much as 25% for low-income Americans, this distortion significantly understates real incomes, especially at the bottom.

posted by Dan at 12:59 PM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (0)

Blog debate on government policy and income inequality

Let me recap the blog debate over the extent to which government policy is responsible for increases in income inequality in recent decades, set off by this Paul Krugman column from last week.

No, that would take to long. Let me just link to this Brad DeLong post and this Tyler Cowen post and strongly recommend that you click through.

posted by Dan at 08:39 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

That Lopez Obrador has an interesting political strategy

Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s strategy to reverse the results in Mexico's presidential election is starting to confuse me. Consider this Financial Times story by Adam Thomson:

Ever since Mr López Obrador, leftwing candidate in the election for president on July 2, lost by a razor-thin 244,000 votes to Felipe Calderón of the ruling centre-right National Action party, he has been “fighting to save democracy”....

In a rare interview, Mr López Obrador told the Financial Times at the weekend that not only would his struggle continue but that it would also become more radical and incorporate new acts of “civil resistance” to press his case.

All this has come as little surprise to his critics, who brand the silver-haired 52-year-old simply as an unreformed leftist campaigner with an authoritarian streak and scant regard for legal process.

They would probably be unsurprised, too, to learn what Mr López Obrador is reading: Sources on the History of the Mexican Revolution, a large leather-bound book with gold leaf on the spine. “You have to know history to know what to do in circumstances . . .”, he says before tailing off into silence.

Mr López Obrador has been reading about José Vasconcelos, a prominent revolutionary figure who later put down his loss in the 1929 presidential election to fraud and called on supporters to begin an armed struggle. And like that of Vasconcelos, Mr López Obrador is aware that the story of his own struggle might be retold for future generations.

Never in this country’s history has an opposition movement managed to bring together so many people,” he says. “This is a historic moment because the next few days will define the future of democracy in Mexico, the role of the institutions and respect for the constitution.”....

As a political strategy, however, most analysts believe the call for peaceful civil resistance is a big mistake. The resulting traffic chaos from the blockade of Reforma has annoyed many residents in the capital, which is by far Mr López Obrador’s biggest support base. An increasingly radical strategy may also alienate members of his own party, which did well at the legislative level. Before long, they argue, instead of becoming a new Vasconcelos, he may find himself a lonely – and insignificant – character.

Mr López Obrador admits that “there has been a drain of support” since he began his civil resistance campaign. He also accepts that less than half the population supports him in his struggle. In the capital, for example, he believes he now has the backing of 38 per cent of citizens.

But he insists that he had no option but to challenge the authorities. “You can’t stop them unless you take these kinds of steps. The way to fight fraud and to overcome the news blackout is what we are doing now,” he says. “If we hadn’t taken Reforma [the occupied avenue], we would not exist.” (emphases added)

If this Bloomberg report by Patrick Harrington and Adriana Arai is accurate, the sit-in in Mexico City cost his party votes in Chiapas.

If Lopez Obrador knows that his "permanent protest" campaign is causing him to lose support, and there is no indication that the protests to date are affecting the legal part of the electoral process, how is this Mexican standoff going to end?

posted by Dan at 07:52 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, August 21, 2006

Who's going to McCain McCain?

John M. Broder has a story in today's New York Times on John McCain's efforts to monopolize GOP operatives and policy wonks in preparation for 2008:

Senator John McCain is locking up a cast of top-shelf Republican strategists, policy experts, fund-raisers and donors, in a methodical effort to build a 2008 presidential campaign machine, drawing supporters of President Bush despite the sometimes rocky history between the two men....

Other Republican presidential hopefuls are doing likewise, but Mr. McCain is widely judged to be farther along in assembling the kind of national network necessary to sustain a long, expensive campaign for his party’s nomination to succeed President Bush.

At a point in the election cycle when policy positions may be less important than general impressions, the signal Mr. McCain is seeking to send to the Republican Party is that anyone who wants a place on his bandwagon should jump on now.

“We are a party that gravitates toward front-runners,” said Rick Davis, who was Mr. McCain’s presidential campaign manager in 2000....

His still-informal network includes Richard L. Armitage, the former deputy secretary of state; John A. Thain, chief executive of the New York Stock Exchange; and Sig Rogich, who directed the advertising for the 1988 and 1992 presidential campaigns of Mr. Bush’s father.

He is reaching out to Christian conservatives, who helped sink his 2000 presidential bid, by enlisting the aid of figures like Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. of Utah and former Senator Dan Coats of Indiana, both of whom have strong evangelical followings.

His growing kitchen cabinet spans an array of issues and backgrounds, and includes James Jay Baker, a former lobbyist for the National Rifle Association; Niall Ferguson, a historian at Harvard; and Barry McCaffrey, who was the drug czar under President Bill Clinton.

There is as yet no formal policy council and no regular meetings of the McCain brain trust, aides said. They cautioned that the senator consults widely and that some of those enlisted as advisers or supporters might not play official roles in his campaign, if he decides to run.

Some figures listed as advisers by McCain aides, like Colin L. Powell, the former secretary of state, have been silent in public about their preference, and it is not clear how involved they may become.

Yet the scale and breadth of the list suggest how much time, effort and care Mr. McCain is investing in preparing for a presidential campaign, using the lessons of his race in 2000 and his subsequent effort to rally the party around him.

McCain's list includes a fair number of foreign policy heavyweights -- a telling sign of front-runner status.

This leads to the obvious question -- who's going to play the role of insurgent outsider to McCain's front-runner? At some point, there has to be a media boomlet for a candidate other than McCain. [But the media loves McCain!!--ed. They love a good horse race a lot more... besides, this allows reporters to push the "McCain has changed" meme in the way that rock enthusiasts talk about how they only like early Nirvana.] This candidate will inevitably be painted as an authentic straight-shooter who is somehow more "authentic" than McCain.

According to Greg Mankiw, the only other Republican with an active Tradesports market is Giuliani. While it would be hard to picture neither the frontrunner nor the challenger coming from the Christian conservative wing of the party, it's hardly unprecedented -- look at 1996 or 1988.

Readers are encouraged to offer who they believe will be McCain's McCain. My money is on this man.

posted by Dan at 10:04 AM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The muted power of transnational capital

If the International Whaling Commission is my favorite international governmental organization, then my favorite international non-governmental organization would have to be the TransAtlantic Business Dialogue. Why? Because despite the impressive membership roster, this group does not appear to accomplish all that much. On issues like data privacy or genetically modified foods, the TABD has repeatedly issued stern proclamations with no effect on the outcome.

Which is why I am unmoved by this Financial Times story by Stephanie Kirchgaessner

Citigroup chairman Charles Prince has urged President George W. Bush to reinvigorate multilateral trade discussions and “identify a way forward” on the Doha round of trade talks.

In a letter also signed by British Airways chairman Martin Broughton on behalf of the TransAtlantic Business Dialogue, the executives said it was “unacceptable” that transatlantic differences over agriculture, representing less than 3 per cent of transatlantic gross domestic product, were dictating progress on increased market access for goods and services that comprise the majority of global trade.

The corporate chiefs said several factors should prompt the administration to revitalise the talks, including the rise of protectionist tendencies, the increase in bilateral agreements between stronger trading nations, and the expiration next June of the president’s trade promotion authority to negotiate trade agreements.

After such a proclamation, any good Marxist would predict that Doha would be reborn. And, as usual, they will likely be wrong.

UPDATE: Henry Farrell disagrees:

I think Dan is wrong here. The main reason that the TABD isn’t very influential in the grand scheme of things is that it doesn’t need to be. Business leaders on both sides of the Atlantic have plenty of access to policy makers without any need to go through the formalities of the TABD....

There is still an interesting question here, which is why businesses with an interest in increased transatlantic and international trade don’t have more impact than they do. But this doesn’t say anything about the structural power of business more generally. Indeed, I suspect that you could tell a reasonably convincing Marxist or marxisant story about how this demonstrates the relative strength of agribusiness as opposed to the internationalist types who make up the membership of TABD.

Henry's point that multinationals have access to policymakers beyond the TABD is well-taken. That said, I do think the failure of transnational capital to pry open the transatlantic market poses a greater challenge to structural Marxists than Henry asserts. To be sure, there are political economy arguments that explain the collapse of Doha and other transatlantic trade frictions as placating agribusiness and other forms of national capital. But these kind of political economy arguments do not mesh well with this part of the Communist Manifesto:
The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere.

The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of Reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilised nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations.

posted by Dan at 09:23 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The power and politics of blogs in the New York Times

Many readers will find this Adam Liptak story in the New York Times on the legal reaction to the NSA surveillance decision interesting because of the near-unanimity among "legal experts" that the judge's legal reasoning in the case was poor.

Some readers will be interested in the story because, as Ann Althouse points out, it contradicts the NYT editorial from the previous day.

Henry Farrell and I are interested in the story because the first five "legal experts" quoted are also bloggers -- Howard Bashman, Jack Balkin, Orin Kerr, Cass Sunstein, and Eugene Volokh.

This would seem to be a classic case of bloggers from different ideological stripes using their first-mover advantage to developing a common frame on an event, which is then picked up by the mainstream media.

posted by Dan at 11:28 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, August 18, 2006

Open JonBenet thread

It's a Friday, it's late August, and I'm technically on vacation. For these reasons, I'm just going to create this JonBenet Ramsey killer thread, walk away from the computer, and let anyone who's still online on this lovely August day a chance to wallow.

Here are links to the Associated Press and Boulder Daily Camera archives on the case.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go wash my hands.

posted by Dan at 12:59 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Where's the raggedy edge of Red Sox Nation?

In anticipation of this weekend's five-game series between the Red Sox and Yankees, John Branch has an entertaining article in the New York Times on trying to find the dividing line between Red Sox Nation and Yankee Country in my home state of Connecticut:

The idea for this exercise was simple in design but complicated in application: Plot the length of the border between Red Sox Nation and Yankees Country, a sort of Mason-Dixon Line separating baseball’s fiercest rivals, who will play five games in the next four days in Boston.

The midpoint between Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium is approximately Rocky Hill, Conn., a few miles south of Hartford and east of New Britain. Some adventurers have dared to guess where allegiances are perfectly balanced, usually pointing to a place near Route 91, anywhere from north of Hartford to New Haven in the south.

But few have set out on an expedition — Lewis and Clark meet Rand McNally — to draw baseball’s bitterest border, to learn where it makes landfall along Long Island Sound to where it peters out in complacency in upstate New York, a serpentine span of nearly 200 miles.

“The border’s probably as wide as Connecticut,” Tom Brown, a volunteer firefighter in Old Lyme, Conn., said.

But the point was to narrow the boundary until each adjacent town fell to one side or the other. The border would be a continuous line, allowing no recognized islands of hostility in enemy territory. Such bastions would be viewed as anomalies, like Union sympathizers in Tennessee. True borders, after all, are no wider than a dotted line.

Polling a representative sample of people in every town would be impossible, so the method was simplified: Use a company-issued 2002 Pontiac Grand Am to traverse the highways and back roads of Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts. Roll into towns unannounced. Choose a person or group of people — preferably those with a bead on the area, like police officers and firefighters, politicians and postal carriers, bartenders and barbers — to be the proxy for their village. Excuse me, but is this a Yankees town or Red Sox one?

When possible, irrefutable data — a choice of baseball caps, for example, or the sale of team-logo cookies, or an office straw poll — would be used for confirmation.

I do find it interesting that the Times has the border further south than I remember from my childhood, when it ran right through the Farmington Valley. This does make me wonder if the border has shifted southwards in recent years.

posted by Dan at 12:50 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Democratic Party vs. Wal-Mart

In the New York Times, Adam Nagourney and Michael Barbaro have a story on how the Democratic Party has arrived at a new bogeyman -- Wal-Mart:

Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, a likely Democratic presidential candidate in 2008, delivered a 15-minute, blistering attack to warm applause from Democrats and union organizers here on Wednesday. But Mr. Biden’s main target was not Republicans in Washington, or even his prospective presidential rivals.

It was Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private employer.

Among Democrats, Mr. Biden is not alone. Across Iowa this week and across much of the country this month, Democratic leaders have found a new rallying cry that many of them say could prove powerful in the midterm elections and into 2008: denouncing Wal-Mart for what they say are substandard wages and health care benefits.

Six Democratic presidential contenders have appeared at rallies like the one Mr. Biden headlined, along with some Democratic candidates for Congress in some of the toughest-fought races in the country.

“My problem with Wal-Mart is that I don’t see any indication that they care about the fate of middle-class people,” Mr. Biden said, standing on the sweltering rooftop of the State Historical Society building here. “They talk about paying them $10 an hour. That’s true. How can you live a middle-class life on that?”

The focus on Wal-Mart is part of a broader strategy of addressing what Democrats say is general economic anxiety and a growing sense that economic gains of recent years have not benefited the middle class or the working poor.

Their alliance with the anti-Wal-Mart campaign dovetails with their emphasis in Washington on raising the minimum wage and doing more to make health insurance affordable. It also suggests they will go into the midterm Congressional elections this fall and the 2008 presidential race striking a populist tone.

Biden's comment here is revealing in how the Dems want to frame the debate -- they think Wal-Mart's greatest impact is as an employer. Most (thought not all) economists, I suspect, see Wal-Mart's greatest impact as lowering the costs of consumption for Americans who frequent their stores -- including the middle class.

In the Financial Times, Jonathan Birchall and Holly Yeager report on Wal-Mart's response:

Under Lee Scott, chief executive, the company has in the past year expanded beyond the usual realm of corporate lobbying to wage a fully-fledged campaign in the mainstream of American politics. “When a company is as large as ours, we’re certainly going to have a lot of interaction with both politics and government,” says Bob McAdam, vice-president of corporate affairs.

On Tuesday it sent 18,000 “voter education” letters to its employees in Iowa, pointing out what it said were factual errors made by politicians who had attacked the company. The group is to despatch similar letters to its staff in other states....

Wal-Mart’s evolving political strategy, shaped with advice and support from Edelman, the public relations consultancy, has been twofold. First, it has attacked its critics – arguing that it is the victim of an unholy alliance between Democrat lawmakers and the unions they rely on to deliver votes and campaign financing. Second, it is seeking to make the argument that the company is good for America.

It is doing this by mobilising its own political constituency, seeking alliances with local community leaders and businesses – in particular, black and Hispanic groups – that accept Wal-Mart’s argument that the company helps low-income Americans by offering low prices and jobs with the prospect of advancement.

Working Families for Wal-Mart, funded mainly by the retailer, is part of both strategies....

John Zogby, the pollster, argues that focusing too much on Wal-Mart “means no net gain”, because union voters already favour the Democrats and the party must seek other support if it is to recapture the White House in 2008. “When are the Democrats going to talk to Wal-Mart shoppers?” he asks (see below left). Mr Zogby, who has done some polling work for Wake Up Wal-Mart, says Democrats still lack “a strategy that deals with Joe and Mary Middle America – and Joe and Mary Middle America are at Wal-Mart”.

Two questions to readers:
A) Who's going to win this battle over the next few years?

B) Who should win this battle?

UPDATE: Well, I think it's safe to describe Andy Young as a loser in this battle.

posted by Dan at 10:58 PM | Comments (47) | Trackbacks (0)

The neoliberal Hugo Chavez

The New York Times runs an amusing story on the growth in bilateral trade between Hugo Cavez's Venezuela and George Bush's America. Some highlights:

[E]ven as the talk from Caracas and Washington grows more hostile and the countries seem to be growing ever farther apart, trade between Venezuela and the United States is surging.

Venezuela’s oil exports, of course, account for the bulk of that trade, as the country remains the fourth largest oil supplier to the United States. Pulled largely by those rising oil revenues, trade climbed 36 percent in 2005, to $40.4 billion, the fastest growth in cargo value among America’s top 20 trading partners, according to WorldCity, a Miami company that closely tracks American trade.

But American companies are also benefiting, as Venezuela’s thirst for American products like cars, construction machinery and computers has steadily grown, rising to $6.4 billion last year, from $4.8 billion a year earlier....

[T]he trade numbers illustrate a widening gulf between Mr. Chávez’s increasingly anti-American speeches, aimed at revving his political base, and the needs of Venezuela’s otherwise freewheeling economy.

For instance, non-oil exports to the United States climbed 116 percent in the first three months of the year, according to the National Statistics Institute. Venezuela also maintains close ties to Wall Street banks, with Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse advising the governments of Venezuela and Argentina on their coming sale of $2 billion of bonds....

Most delicately, oil services companies like Halliburton, an emblem of the Venezuelan government’s distaste with American foreign policy, are at the forefront of the deepening interdependence.

“There’s rhetoric and there’s business,” said an official with the United States Commerce Department who closely follows trade with Venezuela, and asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of relations between the countries. “The Venezuelans can’t produce their oil without our equipment. It’s as simple as that.”

With 10 offices and 1,000 employees in Venezuela, Halliburton recently won a contract to assist Petrozuata, a venture between Venezuela’s national oil company and ConocoPhillips, in extracting oil from fields in eastern Venezuela....

In its July filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Halliburton reported that its energy services group, which helps companies drill for oil, hit double-digit sales growth in Venezuela in the first six months of 2006, offsetting a decline in Mexico....

The resilient ties with the United States are too much for some of Mr. Chávez’s critics on the left, including Douglas Bravo, a former Marxist guerrilla commander who was once close to Mr. Chávez, but who has broken with him over Venezuela’s heavy reliance on energy companies from rich industrial countries.

“If you look at its speech and discourse, this is a revolutionary government,” Mr. Bravo said in a recent interview with the newspaper El Nacional. “But if you look at what it has accomplished, it is a neoliberal government.”

posted by Dan at 10:51 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

New blogger on the scene!!

Reuters reports about a new and exciting blogger:

Iran's president has launched a Web log, using his first entry to recount his poor upbringing and ask visitors to the site if they think the United States and Israel want to start a new world war.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose speeches are riddled with anti-U.S. rhetoric, also described how he was angered by American meddling in Iran even when he was at elementary school.

Ahmadinejad swept to a surprise victory in last year's presidential race by promising the country's poor a fairer share of Iran's oil wealth and emphasizing his own humble origins that led many to vote for him as an "outsider" to Iran's ruling elite.

"During the era that ... living in a city was perfection, I was born in a poor family in a remote village," he wrote in a blog dated Friday, after opening with Islamic greetings.

Here's a link to Ahmadinejad's first post, which ends by confessing, "I will continue this topic later on as it took long in the beginning. From now onwards, I will try to make it shorter and simpler."

To which I can only say, as a fellow blogger, good God, yes.

The blog is worth checking out for Ahmadinejad's... interesting interpretation of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei's post-revolution strategy of political inclusion.

Surprisingly, Ahmadinejad's poll shows a bare majority disagreeing with the contention that "the US and Israeli intention and goal by attacking Lebanon is pulling the trigger for another word (sic) war."

posted by Dan at 03:52 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A cost/benefit analysis of the Pakistan alliance

In the Wall Street Journal, Shalid Shah has a good story chronicling the tradeoffs of the U.S. alliance with Pakistan:

Pakistan's cooperation in foiling last week's terror plot shows the benefits to the U.S. of good relations with its South Asian ally. But the case of Safdar Sarki shows that such ties also have complications.

Mr. Sarki, a Pakistan-born American citizen, disappeared in Karachi in February, two days before he planned to fly home to El Campo, Texas. For years, Mr. Sarki had been an advocate for Sindhis, the indigenous residents of a southeastern province of Pakistan, who claim they have suffered political and economic discrimination since the 1947 creation of India and Pakistan.

Mr. Sarki, 42 years old, is one of hundreds of political activists who have gone missing in Pakistan over the past decade. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a nongovernmental organization that tracks human-rights issues, says 57 political activists have "disappeared" in the past two years, including prominent figures such as Asif Baladi, a young scholar, and Nawaz Zaunr, a journalist and poet. When asked about the claim of such "disappearances," the spokesman for Pakistan's embassy in Washington said authorities in Pakistan are investigating the cases but have no information on them.

Mr. Sarki's case is different largely because it has drawn the attention of the State Department and some members of Congress. It illustrates a strain that persists as President Bush works to strengthen America's relationship with Pakistan.

Mr. Bush is advocating the spread of democracy around the world, and Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a coup, is an example of the kind of leader Mr. Bush has criticized. The disappearances of Mr. Sarki and others are an aspect of Islamabad's human-rights record that the Bush administration has termed troubling.

Bush's agenda for global democracy promotion seems dormant to me, but this case does highlight the difficulty of pursuing an "transformative" strategy of regime change while trying to maximize intelligence-gathering.

posted by Dan at 03:28 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, August 14, 2006

What happens in the Middle East now?

With a cease-fire ostensibly taking effect, a few things worth reading this morning.

In The New Yorker, Sy Hersh files his latest on the extent of U.S.-Israeli cooperation and expectations going into the war against Hezbollah. Like all Hersh pieces, it's difficult to parse between what's the stone-cold truth and what's being leaked to him by bureaucrats in CYA mode (these two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, mind you). Hersh is never boring however:

“The Israelis told us it would be a cheap war with many benefits,” a U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel said. “Why oppose it? We’ll be able to hunt down and bomb missiles, tunnels, and bunkers from the air. It would be a demo for Iran.”

A Pentagon consultant said that the Bush White House “has been agitating for some time to find a reason for a preëmptive blow against Hezbollah.” He added, “It was our intent to have Hezbollah diminished, and now we have someone else doing it.” (As this article went to press, the United Nations Security Council passed a ceasefire resolution, although it was unclear if it would change the situation on the ground.)

According to Richard Armitage, who served as Deputy Secretary of State in Bush’s first term—and who, in 2002, said that Hezbollah “may be the A team of terrorists”—Israel’s campaign in Lebanon, which has faced unexpected difficulties and widespread criticism, may, in the end, serve as a warning to the White House about Iran. “If the most dominant military force in the region—the Israel Defense Forces—can’t pacify a country like Lebanon, with a population of four million, you should think carefully about taking that template to Iran, with strategic depth and a population of seventy million,” Armitage said. “The only thing that the bombing has achieved so far is to unite the population against the Israelis.”

Meanwhile, in a front-pager for the Washington Post, Edward Cody and Molly Moore assess what Americans and Israelia think about Hezbollah now:
Hezbollah's irregular fighters stood off the modern Israeli army for a month in the hills of southern Lebanon thanks to extraordinary zeal and secrecy, rigorous training, tight controls over the population, and a steady flow of Iranian money to acquire effective weaponry, according to informed assessments in Lebanon and Israel.

"They are the best guerrilla force in the world," said a Lebanese specialist who has sifted through intelligence on Hezbollah for more than two decades and strongly opposes the militant Shiite Muslim movement....

Hezbollah's military leadership carefully studied military history, including the Vietnam War, the Lebanese expert said, and set up a training program with help from Iranian intelligence and military officers with years of experience in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. The training was matched to weapons that proved effective against Israeli tanks, he added, including the Merkava main battle tank with advanced armor plating.

Wire-guided and laser-guided antitank missiles were the most effective and deadly Hezbollah weapons, according to Israeli military officers and soldiers. A review of Israel Defense Forces records showed that the majority of Israeli combat deaths resulted from missile hits on armored vehicles -- or on buildings where Israeli soldiers set up observation posts or conducted searches.

Most of the antitank missiles, Israeli officers noted, could be dragged out of caches and quickly fired with two- or three-man launching teams at distances of 3,200 yards or more from their targets. One of the most effective was the Russian-designed Sagger 2, a wire-guided missile with a range of 550 to 3,200 yards.

In one hidden bunker, Israeli soldiers discovered night-vision camera equipment connected to computers that fed coordinates of targets to the Sagger 2 missile, according to Israeli military officials who described the details from photographs they said soldiers took inside the bunker.

Some antitank missiles also can be used to attack helicopters, which has limited the military's use of choppers in rescues and other operations. On Saturday, Hezbollah shot down a CH-53 Sikorsky helicopter in Lebanon, killing all five crew members, according to the Israeli military. As of late Sunday, Israeli troops still had been unable to retrieve the bodies because of fierce fighting in the area of the crash.

The Hezbollah arsenal, which also included thousands of missiles and rockets to be fired against northern Israel's towns and villages, was paid for with a war chest kept full by relentless fundraising among Shiites around the world and, in particular, by funds provided by Iran, said the intelligence specialist. The amount of Iranian funds reaching Hezbollah was estimated at $25 million a month, but some reports suggested it increased sharply, perhaps doubled, after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took over as president in Tehran last year, the specialist said.

Like Kevin Drum, I don't necesaarily have any fresh or coherent ideas to add.

Here's my question to readers: will the failure to eradicate Hezbollah cause the Bush administration to change it's approach to dealing with Iran?

posted by Dan at 12:06 PM | Comments (74) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Why the academy needs a South Side fellowship

In the pages of the Boston Globe, Harvard Law professor David Barron looks at how the city of Chicago is treating big box retailers and believes it to be a good thing:

On July 25, the Chicago Board of Aldermen passed an ordinance requiring big-box retailers-those with $1 billion in sales and 90,000 square feet of shopping space in their stores-to give their employees a living wage. By 2010, the stores would have to pay workers $10 an hour and provide an additional $3 in benefits.

Despite strong support from local unions and merchants, and concerns that an influx of low-paying big-box retail jobs could do more harm than good, the mayor has threatened to veto the measure, and some are talking about asking the courts to strike it down if it's enacted. They say the new law is not only unfair but also bad policy. It would, they argue, deprive the city of sales taxes, force consumers to pay higher prices, take jobs from poor people, and push new development to the suburbs.

But whatever one thinks of the merits of this debate, the fact that Chicago is even having it is important. Other cities, including Boston, are already thinking about following the aldermen's lead: As Wal-Mart contemplates its first store in Boston, city councilors Chuck Turner and Felix Arroyo have said they plan to explore an ordinance similar to Chicago's. This surge of interest in regulating big-box retail shows that, at last, America's cities are beginning to think of themselves as choosers rather than beggars. They have emerged from decades of decline with newfound financial strength, and they are now beginning to assert their public powers to decide the kind of cities they want to be....

And so, with demand for urban locations higher, cities-as free marketers should be the first to realize-are no longer willing to sell themselves at any price. The Chicago Sun-Times, in the process of condemning the aldermen's action, hit on just this point: ``[They] think the dense Chicago market is too attractive for the retailers to pass up, especially since most suburban areas already are saturated. They're taking a risk that Wal-Mart and Target are bluffing." Exactly right. The aldermen are betting that big-box retailers will build even if the ordinance becomes law, but it's a safer bet than the Sun-Times allows. After all, the new measure does not bar big-box retailers from doing business in the city. It just requires that they provide employees high enough wages and benefits so that the city won't have to make up the difference through the social services it provides....

Like new office buildings, big-box retailers also bring burdens along with benefits. Some studies show they may depress wages in related businesses or threaten small, usually family-owned retailers. In many cities, including Chicago, it is the growing immigrant neighborhoods, chock-full of such small family-run establishments, that are re-knitting the urban fabric and producing significant amounts of social capital. A law restricting big-box companies from using low wages to support price cuts that might force these important community retailers to close is arguably a tailored response to a reasonable concern. Certainly it's hard to say that Chicago is acting recklessly.

As I've said before about this case two years ago, Chicago is acting recklessly. Erecting significant barriers against big box retailers moving into the inner city does little more to hurt the poor.

Barron seems to assume that without Wal-Mart, the whole of Chicago is this nirvana of small, quaint shopkeepers who provide a diversity of goods and services with a smile and a fair price. Having lived close to the area where Wal-Mart was planning on putting its South Side location, I can assert that Barron doesn't know what he's talking about. There are very few, "small family-run establishments" to displace. The absence of any big-box retailer between Roosevelt Rd. and 85th St. makes it fantastically difficult for the poorest members of the city of Chicago to buy low-priced goods. Barron's focus on unions and small merchants at the expense of, well, everyone else is more than a bit disconcerting.

[He's right about abstaining from tax breaks and the like, though, right?--ed. There's a valid point to be made about putting a halt to cities throwing tax breaks around like candy in a vain effort to attract corporate headquarters, manufacturing plants and the like. However, Barron's implicit economic assumption is that because cities have considerable market power, they can use it to advance the cause of good. The trouble with that argument is that anyone who has ever chatted with a Chicago alderman knows full well that good has very little to do with urban plicy.]

It might behoove some foundation to create a fellowship for enthusiasts of urban reform to spend a year on the South Side in order to get a taste of what it's actually like to live in the inner city before pontificating about policy [Would this apply to free-marketers as well?--ed. Sure.]

UPDATE: Barron responds on his blog. Key section:

I was not arguing that Chicago should pass the ordinance but rather that Chicago should have the legal power to make the policy judgment for itself. Drezner, an economist, skipped right over that distinction. (If I need a fellowship to take me to the South Side, as he suggests, then maybe he needs one to take him to law school.) Actually, though, Drezner is on to something interesting and important. He emphasizes rightly that not all city neighborhoods are the same. It might be that the city would be wise to permit bix box retail in some neighborhoods within the city on more favorable terms than others. The mayor has suggested as much, proposing that each ward be able to decide the matter for itself. It's a complex policy question, however, whether such neighborhood-based tailoring is a good idea or a bad one, and it depends a lot on the particularities of the retail market in the Chicago area. I am skeptical it is a good idea, but open to being persuaded otherwise. But, for me, the key point for now is that a city could not tailor its policy in this neighborhood-focused manner even it was a good idea for it to do so unless it had the legal power to enact such living wage ordinances at all. And that's part of the reason why I think the Chicago ordinance, if enacted, should be upheld against the home rule, equal protection, and ERISA-preemption challenges that are sure to follow.
Question to readers: should a city have the right to mandate a living wage and apply that mandate asymmetrically to businesses? I suspect that for most people this depends on whether you believe a living wage is sensible policy. One could adopt a process-based position that says regardless of the stupidity of such an approach, an elected council has the right to enact such a policy. At the local level, however, on measures that impose asymmetrical barriers to entry, I strongly lean towards a combination of a public choice perspective, which is skeptical that any city-wide ordinance would actually represent something approximating the general will, and a classical liberal perspective, which would be profoundly skeptical of the city imposing property rights constraints.

posted by Dan at 09:49 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Popping the bubble

I have a review of Peter Hartcher's Bubble Man: Alan Greenspan and the Missing $7 Trillion in today's Washington Post. The opening and closing:

The subtitle of Bubble Man symbolizes the many flaws in Peter Hartcher's jeremiad against Alan Greenspan and the dot-com hysteria that the former Federal Reserve chairman allegedly abetted. The "Missing 7 Trillion Dollars" refers to the losses that stockholders incurred in the three years after the late-1990s stock market bubble collapsed. Throughout the book, Hartcher argues that Greenspan is to blame for those losses -- until the epilogue, in which Hartcher acknowledges that in the three years after those three years, a market upswing recovered "nine dollars out of every ten lost." As Gilda Radner's Emily Litella famously put it, "Never mind."....

By the end of the book, Hartcher seems determined to throw as much mud at Greenspan as possible. Some of this is amusing (Greenspan was a recipient of the Enron Award for Public Service), but most of the time he overreaches. After all, blaming Greenspan for all day traders is like blaming Bill Clinton for all adulterers.

A central irony of Bubble Man is that it is Greenspan's aura as the master of markets that gives Hartcher's accusations any resonance at all. Greenspan was so adroit at handling so many aspects of his job that it seems plausible that he should have handled the dot-com hysteria as well. Greenspan is not perfect, but he's no bubble man.

It was difficult, in the space alloted, to list all the reasons I thought this book sucked eggs. For those who really care, do check out Steven Mufson's lengthier critique in The Washington Monthly.

posted by Dan at 09:06 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The political economy of NOCs

The Economist runs a good backgrounder (subscriber only) on national oil companies (NOCs) and their various organizational pathologies. In particular, the article identifies the central peculiarity of nationalized energy companies -- inefficiences now give them greater market leverage in the future.

If nothing else, the story places "big oil" in the proper perspective:

Exxon Mobil is the world's most valuable listed company, with a market capitalisation of $412 billion. But if you compare oil companies by how much they have left in the ground, the American giant ranks a lowly fourteenth. All 13 of the oil firms that outshadow it are national oil companies (NOCs): partially or wholly state-owned firms through which governments retain the profits from oil production.

posted by Dan at 11:03 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Gonna be a fun month to fly

Congrats to all involved on foiling that terror plot.

And now, a very selfish request:

Please, please, please, pretty please, pretty please with sugar on top, allow things to calm down enough so that next month when I have to fly to and from the UK, these travel restrictions are no longer in place.

Because if me no one is allowed to bring a book onboard a transatlantic flight, then the terrorists really have won.

UPDATE: Although the media reaction has focused on this latest plot as an example of the vitality of terrorists, I tend to agree with much of this Stratfor analysis:
There are four takeaway lessons from this incident:

First, while there obviously remains a threat from those not only sympathetic to al Qaeda, but actually participating in planning with those in the al Qaeda apex leadership, their ability to launch successful attacks outside of the Middle East is severely degraded.

Second, if the cell truly does have 50 people and 21 have already been detained, then al Qaeda might have lost its ability to operate below the radar of Western -- or at least U.K. -- intelligence agencies. Al Qaeda's defining characteristic has always been its ability to maintain operational security. If that has been compromised, then al Qaeda's importance as a force has diminished greatly.

Third, though further attacks could occur, it appears al Qaeda has lost the ability to alter the political decision-making of its targets. The Sept. 11 attack changed the world. The Madrid train attacks changed a government. This failed airliner attack only succeeded in closing an airport temporarily.

Fourth, the vanguard of militant Islamism appears to have passed from Sunni/Wahhabi al Qaeda to Shiite Iran and Hezbollah. It is Iran that is shaping Western policies on the Middle East, and Hezbollah who is directly engaged with Israel. Al Qaeda, in contrast, appears unable to do significantly more than issue snazzy videos.

posted by Dan at 05:27 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (0)

If there was a stock market for cabinet officers....

Then Condi Rice's stock would be going down, while Henry Paulson's stock would be slowly rising. Whether that's fair is another question.

The New York Times runs stories about both of them, and the tone of the stories is pretty different.

Helene Cooper's piece on Rice suggests that she's a prisoner of bureaucratic politics:

As Ms. Rice has struggled with the Middle East crisis over the last four weeks, she has found herself trying to be not only a peacemaker abroad but also a mediator among contending parties at home.

Washington’s resistance to an immediate cease-fire and its staunch support of Israel have made it more difficult for Ms. Rice to work with other nations, including some American allies, as they search for a formula that will end the violence and produce a durable cease-fire.

On her recent trips to the Middle East, Ms. Rice was accompanied by two men with very different outlooks on the conflict: Elliott Abrams, senior director at the National Security Council, and C. David Welch, a career diplomat and former ambassador to Egypt who is assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs.

Mr. Welch represents the traditional State Department view that the United States should serve as a neutral broker in the Middle East. Mr. Abrams, a neoconservative with strong ties to Mr. Cheney, has pushed the administration to throw its support behind Israel. During Ms. Rice’s travels, he kept in direct contact with Mr. Cheney’s office.

One administration official described how during the trip — including a July 29 discussion in Ms. Rice’s Rabin suite at the David Citadel Hotel, with its panoramic view of Jerusalem’s Old City — Mr. Welch and Mr. Abrams served as counterfoils, with Mr. Welch arguing the Arab view and Mr. Abrams articulating the Israeli stance....

The tensions in the region and within the administration have left Ms. Rice visibly weary and she has at times spoken in unusually personal, emotional terms....

Ms. Rice has been sharply criticized by some conservatives for pushing Israel too far to end its military operations in Lebanon. “Dump Condi: Foreign policy conservatives charge State Dept. has hijacked Bush agenda,” read the headline July 25 in an online version of Insight Magazine, published by The Washington Times.

“She’s being hammered by those who believe that this crisis will only be resolved by a strategic victory by Israel, backed by the United States,” said Aaron David Miller, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center who was a senior adviser for Arab-Israeli relations at the State Department under the last three presidents. “That belief says that unless Hezbollah is handed a strategic retreat, the war on terror will suffer a huge defeat.”

But, Mr. Miller said, “she’s also being hammered by the Europeans and Arabs for what they believe to be her inactivity.”

In contrast, Steven Weisman's piece on Paulson suggests a man surmounting the push and pull of different bureaucracies:
Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. has spent his first weeks in office seeking to assert control within the administration over international economic issues, focusing in particular on developing a new plan to confront China’s growing economic clout, administration officials say.

With the encouragement of the White House, Mr. Paulson has been considering steps, including the establishment of an interagency working group on international economic issues led by the Treasury Department, to fulfill President Bush’s pledge to make him the administration’s chief economic policy maker.

Mr. Paulson has conferred daily with the chief White House economic policy maker, Al Hubbard, and has been meeting with various Cabinet members to put his plans in motion, the officials said.

Hoping to put his stamp on one of the most pressing issues he faces, Mr. Paulson plans a new drive to press Beijing to open its financial systems, stimulate consumer demand and let the value of its currency rise to reduce exports.

Are these perceptions fair? Maybe. But buried within both stories are facts suggesting that these perceptions have more to do with the intrinsic difficulties of the policy problems at hand rather than the relative competencies of Rice and Paulson.

For example, there's this in the Rice story:

Several State Department officials have privately objected to the administration’s emphasis on Israel and have said that Washington is not talking to Syria to try to resolve the crisis. Damascus has long been a supporter of Hezbollah, and previous conflicts between the group and Israel have been resolved through shuttle diplomacy with Syria.

Two weeks ago, Ms. Rice instructed Stephen A. Seche, the chargé d’affaires at the United States Embassy in Damascus, to approach Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem in Damascus. The two met, but Mr. Moallem “gave no indication that they would be moderately constructive,” a senior administration official said, and there have been no overtures since.

And there's this in the Paulson story:
Kenneth S. Rogoff, professor of public policy and economics at Harvard, said he detected a subtle shift in Chinese thinking recently. Other economists, noting the shift, say that Mr. Paulson should now take advantage of it and may do so soon.

“For a long time the Chinese have been telling us that if they appreciate their currency, it would entail a big economic risk — and how do we know it will help?” Mr. Rogoff said. “Now the economy is so overheated, the Chinese are saying that they know currency appreciation might not work, but they might as well give it a try.”

What does this information tell us? That Rice's options might be limited by external as well as internal factors, while Paulson is not. Which makes Paulson's job a heck of a lot easier.

posted by Dan at 08:29 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Find a hobby for Cynthia McKinney!! Please??!!

From an Associated Press story by Errin Haines on Cynthia Mckinney's primary loss:

"Cynthia McKinney is loved nationally, locally and internationally," said Brooks, who is president of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials. "I expect her to move to the international scene, especially as it relates to peace, justice and environmental issues. This is going to elevate her to another level."
It's always nice to see Americans interested in foreign affairs -- but I'm not entirely sure that this is the best use of McKinney's .... er... talents.

Readers are encouraged to offer Rep. McKinney career advice that does not involve her entering the "international scene."

Please? Pretty please?

posted by Dan at 08:19 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Day of the lefties

The Washington Post provides me with another reason to be happy that I'm left-handed (hat tip: Greg Mankiw):

"Among the college-educated men in our sample, those who report being left-handed earn 13 percent more than those who report being right-handed," said economist Christopher S. Ruebeck of Lafayette College. Ruebeck and his research partners, Joseph E. Harrington Jr. and Robert Moffitt of Johns Hopkins University, reported the findings in a new working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

And lefties, stay in school: Those who finished all four years of college earned, on average, a whopping 21 percent more than similarly educated right-handed men. Curiously, the researchers found no wage differential among left- and right-handed women....

While evidence of a wage gap was unequivocal, explanations for the disparity proved more elusive. Differences in biology and brain function are two possibilities. Nor do the researchers know why they didn't see a similar effect among women.

I'll leave it to my readers to speculate on possible explanations.

posted by Dan at 02:42 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

The trouble with obsessing about exports

Adam Posen has a very good column in the Financial Times today (alas, subscriber only) about the folly that is focusing on export competitiveness. The highlights:

If governments want to increase their economies’ share of global production in high-value-added sectors or, better still, create new such products and sectors, then the policy goal should be to increase competitive pressure upon an economy’s own businesses. In spite of the frequently cited examples of export-led growth for some developing countries, there is mounting evidence that the benefits to growth of countries’ engagement in trade are attributable to openness. These include: the direct benefits of importing lower prices and greater variety; the efficiency gains from challenging (rather than protecting) domestic businesses; and policy choices that contribute to a broadly liberal and market-orientated framework across the economy. Exports taken on their own, the usual narrower target of com­petitiveness policy, are not correlated with average per capita income growth.

A focus on export competitiveness usually leads to actively harmful policies, beyond simply wasted resources and rhetoric. If exports are the public criterion of economic success, policymakers can meet that goal only by self-destructive means: depreciating a country’s currency, thus eroding the purchasing power and the accumulated wealth of citizens; depressing wages in export sectors, either directly or through relative deflation vis-a-vis trading partners, thus cutting real incomes and domestic demand; subsidising or protecting exporting companies, thus distorting investment decisions and locking in old technologies and businesses at the expense of new entrants; or promoting national champions, thus increasing both wasteful public spending and the costs to domestic households and businesses....

No example better illustrates the costs to an economy of distraction by export competitiveness than Germany in recent years. In fact, the very parts of the German economy that are most protected by over-regulation, publicly subsidised financing and unaccountable corporate governance – the much vaunted Mittelstand – use the export success of some of their companies to justify those protections. Yet, for all their exports, the resulting lack of consolidation or technical change in these sectors drives down productivity growth and returns to capital throughout the German economy.

Consequently, Germany’s successful export industries remain largely the same ones as 40 years ago, while global technological progress means these sectors have moved down the value chain. The dysfunctions of Germany’s corporate sector also mean almost no German companies have emerged in today’s growing high-technology and service sectors. By focusing on export totals rather than productivity growth, the country has brought about arrested development in its corporate sector.

This ties into a key political problem in reviving Doha -- the trade rounds are organized in such a way as to magnify the economic importance of exports. Edward M. Graham explained this in a op-ed last month that's worth highlighting:
[T]he notion that benefits come mostly from increased exports while increased imports are a "cost" that trade negotiators must try to minimize remains a lie. Rather, what is true is that the most immediate public benefits from a successful trade negotiation are actually created by import expansion. Such an expansion thus should be treated as a benefit—not a cost. It is via lower import prices and greater product variety that consumers benefit from trade expansion. In fact, the $287 billion of calculable benefits from the Doha Round as noted above come mostly from price reductions of imports. Indeed, almost two-thirds of this figure would result from lower prices of agricultural goods and elimination of efficiency-distorting subsidies to farmers. Much of the rest comes from lower prices of clothing. But to achieve this benefit, the trade negotiators and politicians behind them must be ready to take on the farmers and textile interests who oppose these negotiations. Moreover, the main reason the negotiations are failing is simply that trade negotiators from key "players"—the European Union, the United States, Japan, Korea, and others—are placing the interests of local farmers and textile producers over those of the general public. Farmers worldwide threaten to make noise if agricultural protection and subsidies are reduced. But the public at large seems indifferent to the possibility that a successful negotiation could lead to lower bills at the food store. Moreover, reform of trade in agricultural and textile-based goods could stimulate the export industries of some of the poorest countries.

Alas, in this round, there seems to be no export sector, at least not in the jurisdictions of the "big players," that is prepared to play the role of counterweight to the farmers and other import-competing sectors. So what can be done to reverse this situation? One possibility is that the time has come to end the lie, however useful it might have been historically, and simply tell the public what is really on the line: They stand to lose money because they will not see the lower prices of imports that could be achieved.

UPDATE: Mark Thoma has further thoughts.

posted by Dan at 11:04 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Noam Scheiber confuses me

My specialty is in international relations and not American politics, so maybe that explains why I don't completely understand Noam Scheiber's op-ed in the New York Times on the implications of the end of Joementum:

[T]here was a time when the support of key Democratic interest groups would have more than made up for such heresies. That he could not depend on that traditional lifeline this time should be alarming even for those who hoped for his defeat.

Consider the way Democratic politics has worked for most of the last 40 years. If you were a Democratic member of Congress, pretty much the only way to earn yourself a primary challenger was to oppose a powerful local interest group on an issue it deemed critical. If you represented a Rust Belt district, for example, you could all but count on winning your party’s nomination every two years as long as you voted with the local union on trade legislation.

Under this old model, Mr. Lieberman was an all-star. He was a reliable vote on what Connecticut liberals care about: defending the right to abortion, fighting oil drilling in the Alaskan Arctic, raising the minimum wage. When he did depart from Democratic orthodoxy, it usually involved attacking constituencies with little influence in his state, like Hollywood movie producers.

But over the last six years this old model has broken down. As anyone who hasn’t been living in a cave knows, traditional Democratic interest groups have steadily lost ground to a more partisan, progressive movement skilled at using the Internet to communicate and raise money. The most visible faces of the new movement are the thousands of political bloggers — and their millions of readers — who delighted in panning Mr. Lieberman these last several months.

But the movement also consists of national fund-raising and advocacy groups like and Democracy for America (the current incarnation of Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign). Call them the counter-Bushies, after the president whose singular talent it is to drive them to paroxysms of rage.

What matters to the counter-Bushies is basically the opposite of what mattered to the traditional interest groups. The new gang doesn’t care so much about any one issue; it wants Democrats to present a united, and generally liberal, front. (According to a Pew Research Center survey released last year, more than 80 percent of Democracy for America supporters consider themselves liberal, versus less than 30 percent of all Democrats.)

But to discuss the counter-Bushies’ approach strictly in terms of substance doesn’t do them justice. Often they care as much about style as about issues — they want Democrats to denounce Republicans loudly and stridently, and to block the administration’s agenda whenever possible.

Oddly, a party in which the counter-Bushies have replaced the traditional interests may even move rightward in particular cases. Under the new model, for example, our old Rust Belt congressman can probably buck the local union on trade. But the changes do make the party more liberal over all, because our congressman must now make up what he lost in labor backing with support from the counter-Bushies. He can only do that by stridently denouncing the Republican Party and racking up a more liberal voting record.

The flip side of this calculus for that Rust Belt congressman is that simply voting the right way on trade no longer suffices. Labor has lost the power to deliver him the nomination, just like it’s lost the power to sandbag him.

Formally, Scheiber's argument has some logic -- if an interest group holds a veto over the nomination process, and they care only that their rep take position A* on issue A, then Congressman Smith can adopt any position on issues B-Z. If the netroots have veto power, Scheiber is arguing that Smith can adopt A' rather than A*, so long as he compensates by modifiying his positions on issues B-Z such that they conform to the base's preferences.

There's only one problem with this argument, and it's contained within Scheiber's op-ed: "they care as much about style as about issues — they want Democrats to denounce Republicans loudly and stridently, and to block the administration’s agenda whenever possible." The netroots would not tolerate Congressman Smith adopting a free-trade position -- because that means cooperating with the Republicans. Indeed, since cooperation with the other party is more politically visible than one's ideological profile, this will matter a lot more.

The point is, I don't see the netroots generating more free-trade Democrats in the rust belt.

posted by Dan at 09:15 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

So what's it like in Northern Uganda?

Taylor Owen at Oxblog relays a first-person account from Erin Baines about negotiations to end a conflict in Uganda. You know a situation must be pretty dire when the Sudanese government is the mediator in a dispute.

Go check it out.

posted by Dan at 12:16 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

How the academy is efficient
Occasionally the marginal idea escapes the academy and has an impact, but by and large students just want to graduate, academics just want to be insulated from the real world, and the real world wants to be isolated from loonies who go on about how great Che Guevara was. In this light, the Academy is a very efficient mechanism, creating surplus for all.
Click here to read this in context.
posted by Dan at 12:06 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Pirates of the Malacca Strait: Lloyd's Curse

One of the low-level globalization stories that occasionally bubbles to the surface is the apparent difficulty of combating piracy in the sea lanes.

Which makes this Financial Times story by John Burton so interesting:

One of the world’s busiest and most hazardous shipping routes was yesterday declared to be winning its fight against piracy when Lloyd’s, the shipping insurer, dropped its war risk designation for the Malacca Strait.

Lloyd’s surprise decision, which will cut insurance costs for shipping lines using one of the world’s busiest sea lanes, came a year after the insurer incensed the shipping industry and regional governments by imposing the rating.

The Malacca Strait came to be regarded as among the world’s most dangerous sea lanes after a surge in piracy attacks after 1998, as the Indonesian economy deteriorated and Aceh rebels stepped up their military campaign.

However, the International Maritime Bureau, which tracks global piracy, said recently that attacks in the area had fallen to their lowest level since 1999. Lloyd’s said there had been a “significant improvement” in security along the 900km strait as Singapore and Malaysia increased naval and air patrols.

posted by Dan at 05:00 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

James Baker's mystique and aura

The Washington Monthly runs a story by Robert Dreyfuss on the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan group chaired by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, supported by no less than four think tanks, in order to "conduct a forward-looking, independent assessment of the current and prospective situation on the ground in Iraq, its impact on the surrounding region, and consequences for U.S. interests."

There's not much out of the ordinary about such a congressionally-created group. However, it's a testament to the times we live in -- and Baker's reputation as the ne plus ultra of power brokers -- that Dreyfuss' entire story seems dedicated to showing why this group really, really politically significant:

Since March, Baker, backed by a team of experienced national-security hands, has been busily at work trying to devise a fresh set of policies to help the president chart a new course in--or, perhaps, to get the hell out of--Iraq. But as with all things involving James Baker, there's a deeper political agenda at work as well. "Baker is primarily motivated by his desire to avoid a war at home--that things will fall apart not on the battlefield but at home. So he wants a ceasefire in American politics," a member of one of the commission's working groups told me. Specifically, he said, if the Democrats win back one or both houses of Congress in November, they would unleash a series of investigative hearings on Iraq, the war on terrorism, and civil liberties that could fatally weaken the administration and remove the last props of political support for the war, setting the stage for a potential Republican electoral disaster in 2008. "I guess there are people in the [Republican] party, on the Hill and in the White House, who see a political train wreck coming, and they've called in Baker to try to reroute the train."....

[President Bush] may have had another political motive for giving his blessing to the endeavor. If--and it's a very big if--Baker can forge a consensus plan on what to do about Iraq among the bigwigs on his commission, many of them leading foreign-policy figures in the Democratic Party, then the 2008 Democratic presidential nominee--whoever he (or she) is--will have a hard time dismissing the plan. And if the GOP nominee also embraces the plan, then the Iraq war would largely be off the table as a defining issue of the 2008 race--a potentially huge advantage for Republicans.

I think Dreyfuss is stretching the definition of "leading foreign-policy figures in the Democratic Party" just a wee bit. The Democratic "bigwigs" on the commission are Vernon Jordan, Leon Panetta, William H. Perry, and Charles Robb. While Perry's an undisputed heavyweight, neither Jordan nor Panetta are thought of as foreign policy experts, and Robb is more of a light heavyweight. The Democrats might not have a deep foreign policy bench, but this commission is hardly going to lock the party into any position on Iraq come 2008.

Furthermore, it's not clear at all to me how Baker's commission can put a halt to the alleged scenario Dreyfuss lays out in the first quoted paragraph. Baker's commission is not going to be able to anything between now and the midterms, and after that, it doesn't matter what they do -- either the Democrats will be able to convene hearings or they won't. There's nothing mutually exclusive about holding investigative hearings on past decisions while supporting a commission to devise a way out of Iraq. Indeed, it might actually help Democrats who, having supported the war in the first place, now feel the need to sound more anti-war than Al Gore.

I do hope that Baker's group devises the perfect solution to the Iraq mess. This article is proof, however, that James Baker's gravitas is now so extreme that it badly distorts the reportage that surrounds him.

posted by Dan at 12:16 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Cheaters are everywhere

Given the many doping scandals in sports like cycling and baseball, the New York Times' Dylan Loeb McClain points out that cheating exists in "mental sports" too:

Accusations of cheating at the largest tournament of the year have the chess world buzzing — and have tournament directors worried about what they may have to do to stop players from trying to cheat in the future.

The cheating is alleged to have occurred at the World Open in Philadelphia over the July 4 weekend and to have involved two players in two sections of the tournament. In each case, the player was suspected of receiving help from computers or from accomplices using computers. Neither player was caught cheating, but one player, Steve Rosenberg, was expelled. The other, Eugene Varshavsky, was allowed to finish the tournament but was searched before each round, then watched closely during games.

Chess has always been considered a gentleman’s game, with an unwritten honor code. But the advent of powerful and inexpensive chess-playing computers and improved wireless technology has made it easier to cheat.

posted by Dan at 08:29 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, August 7, 2006

Faked Reuters photos -- open thread

Comment away on the Reuters decision to withdraw all photographs by a Lebanese freelancer because he doctored his photographs to make Israeli bombing damage appear worse than it actually was -- and the role the right-wing blogosphere played in this decision.

I confess to actual shock -- I thought this kind of thing only happened when O.J. Simpson was arrested.

Two more serious thoughts:

1) Is this the tip of the iceberg or merely an isolated incident? If the former, how much misperception does such photo doctoring create about the current conflict?

2) To what extent will examples like this cause supporters of Israel to discount all mainstream media accounts of the damage in Lebanon.

posted by Dan at 07:28 PM | Comments (36) | Trackbacks (0)

Apparently, the counterinsurgency manual needs a rewrite

My Fletcher colleague Richard H. Shultz co-authors an op-ed in the New York Times the Army's efforts to develop a new manual about about counterinsurgency tactics from its experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some sobering highlights:

In today’s internal wars several different types of armed groups — not just traditional insurgents bent on changing a national regime — engage in unconventional combat. Iraq is illustrative. Those fighting American forces include a complex mix of Sunni tribal militias, former regime members, foreign and domestic jihadists, Shiite militias and criminal gangs. Each has different motivations and ways of fighting. Tackling them requires customized strategies.

Unfortunately, well into 2005, the American military subsumed all these groups under the rubric “insurgents” and planned its strategy accordingly. It didn’t imagine or prepare for the possibility that former regime members had their own “day-after” plan to fight on even if they lost the conventional battle.

It didn’t imagine that Iraq would become a magnet for international jihadists, so it failed to seal the borders. It didn’t imagine the Sunni tribal militias would react with such violence to the American presence, so it failed to take the pre-emptive economic and political steps to address their grievances. And it failed to understand that there were radical elements within the Shiite community that would use force to try to establish a theocratic system.

These acute miscalculations gave those who seek to defeat us time to marshal their forces, and seriously undercut Washington’s overall efforts to stabilize Iraq.

The Pentagon’s new counterinsurgency manual suffers from similar flaws. It focuses almost exclusively on combating cohesive groups of insurgents who share the same goals. Yes, there are traditional insurgent groups in Iraq, like cells of former Baathists. But the foreign terrorists, religious militias and criminal organizations operate from very different playbooks. We have to learn to read them the way other nations faced with insurgencies have.

This part is particularly interesting:
Meeting and defeating terrorist groups requires a far deeper understanding of their factions — and the exploitation of the rifts between them. Consider how such profiling led to the demise of the Abu Nidal organization, which 20 years ago was the world’s most lethal terrorist group.

As it reached its peak strength, the organization began to experience serious fissures among its leaders. Several key members felt that Abu Nidal himself was siphoning off funds. He in turn accused them of plotting to assassinate him. Eventually he had some 300 hard-core leaders and operatives gunned down or otherwise dispatched. By the early 1990’s, the group had been effectively neutered.

How did this come about? In part because American and other Western intelligence agencies — with the help of local Arab intelligence services who were able to get operatives close to key members of the group and spread paranoia and suspicion — successfully grasped and manipulated factional rivalries.

A key for America should have been to get such information about schisms and unhappiness inside the insurgent groups we face, particularly in their formative stages when they were most vulnerable.

An interesting question to ask is the extent to which western and Arab intelligence agencies have managed to penetrate Al Qaeda's network -- and whether such penetration is more difficult because of the Islamist nature of that organization. It might be tougher to penetrate networks where the identity rests on a theocratic foundation.

Intriguingly, this problem has the potential to cut both ways. Dexter Flikins' review of Lorenzo Wright's new book contains the following nugget of information:

Al Qaeda’s leaders had all but shelved the 9/11 plot when they realized they lacked foot soldiers who could pass convincingly as westernized Muslims in the United States. At just the right moment Atta appeared in Afghanistan, along with Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ziad al-Jarrah and Marwan al-Shehhi, all Western-educated transplants, offering themselves up for slaughter.

posted by Dan at 10:10 AM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, August 6, 2006

Your DVD selections for the summer

Now is normally the time of the month when the hard-working staff here at has sifted through the mountain of book submissions, and -- after debating the finer points of international relations theory in a manner that would have done Bloomsbury or the Algonquin Round Table proud -- selects the much-sought-after prize of being a Book of the Month club selection.

Well, it's August, and it's been really friggin' hot in Boston for the past week or two. This got the staff thinking -- maybe for August, entertainments should be selected that do not tax the mind in such a laborious fashion. Maybe August is the time of lighter fare.

So, without further ado, here are two DVD selections for the dog days of August.

First, for those Buffy fans in the audience, let me recommend what others have urged me to do for several years -- go out and buy the first season of Veronica Mars. The parallels between Veronica and Buffy are quite strong -- formerly-popular-and-now-mostly-alone-but-very-comely girl going to high school in a California town, battling the forces of corruption and evil.

However, Veronica is both less and more scary than Buffy. Less scary in that there are no supernatural demons in the fictional town of Neptune, and there is more than one competent and good-hearted adult in this world. More scary in that the murders, frame-ups, and other evildoings in Veronica Mars all emanate from the hearts of men and not demons -- and as such, exact a greater psychic toll on our heroine. Buffy was better at bringing the funny, but Veronica Mars nails the petty and grand cruelties of high school better than any show I've seen in quite a while.

Don't take my word for it, though. Ask Veronica Mars' biggest fanboy -- Joss Whedon:

Last year, Veronica Mars' best friend was murdered. Some months later, she was drugged at a party and raped in her sleep. Welcome to the funniest and most romantic show on TV, collected on DVD in Veronica Mars: The Complete First Season....

She's a super-sleuth, but the show never forgets that her power is born of pain, and that the kids who don't need to see — or avenge — every secret wrong are actually happier and more well-adjusted. Yet our identification is always strictly with Veronica, the girl buffeted by the base duplicity of her peers and the unfathomable vagaries of her own heart.

The teen-soap element of the show is just as compelling as the season-long murder mystery. Nobody is who you think they are. Everyone shifts, betrays, reveals — through their surprising humor as well as their flaws....

At the center of it all is Veronica herself. [Kristin] Bell is most remarkable not for what she brings (warmth, intelligence, and big funny) but for what she leaves out. For all the pathos of her arc, she never begs for our affection. There is a distance to her, a hole in the center of Veronica's persona. Bell constantly conveys it without even seeming to be aware of it. It's a star turn with zero pyrotechnics, and apart from the occasionally awkward voice-over, it's a teeny bit flawless.

Season two is coming out soon -- check them out so you're all caught up for season three.

If spunky heroines are not your kettle of fish, well, then let me recommend going out and buying a DVD of one of the cheesiest eighties movies you'll ever see -- yes, I speak of Road House.

In Entertainment Weekly, Dalton Ross tries to explain its appeal:

Terms of Endearment. On Golden Pond. Children of a Lesser God. All these acclaimed films came out in the 1980s, but if you had to pick the one movie that best sums up the entire decade, it would be about a bouncer with a goofy name and goofier hair, notorious for spouting such oxymorons as ''pain don't hurt.'' It would be Road House. This Patrick Swayze curiosity symbolizes the excess of the '80s in pretty much every way imaginable, with some of the most awesomely ridiculous barroom-brawl scenes of all time, numerous naked bimbos, and plenty of classic bad-guy taunting (''I see you found my trophy room, Dalton. The only thing that's missing is your ass!'').

Which is precisely why Road House exists less as a movie than as a bona fide historical document of the Reagan years, a time in which audiences asked — nay, demanded — that people be attacked by stuffed polar bears, monster trucks demolish car showrooms, and Swayze do tai chi shirtless and flash his toned buttocks roughly 30 minutes into the proceedings.

Ross misses two things. The first is the hair. Swayze's hair in this move is actually more feathered than co-star Kelly Lynch. Second, he missed the most blatantly homoerotic moment in an action movie -- you'll have to see the move to understand what I mean.

The latest DVD features a commentary track from fellow Road House fan Kevin Smith. Go check it out -- and feel your brain cells wither and die.

posted by Dan at 09:23 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, August 5, 2006

Mexico is about to get very interesting

The BBC reports that there will not be a full recount in Mexico's recent presidential election:

Mexico's electoral body has rejected a request by left-wing candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador for a full recount of votes from July's disputed election.
Instead, the electoral tribunal's seven judges ordered a partial recount.

Mr Lopez Obrador's supporters have repeatedly said a ballot-by-ballot recount is the only way to restore faith in Mexico's electoral system.

The 2 July vote gave victory to the conservative candidate, Felipe Calderon, by less than 1%.

The electoral tribunal ordered the recount of votes at 11,839 of the country's almost 130,500 polling stations.

Mr Obrador has challenged the election result, saying the vote was rigged.

He has said he will not accept a partial recount, raising fears of prolonged public unrest.

Reporting for the AP, Traci Carl reports that Lopez Obrador's supporters are not taking the news well:
In Mexico's central plaza, thousands of protesters watched the court session on a huge screen, chanting "Vote by vote!" and drowning out the judges' statements. Representatives of Lopez Obrador walked out of the session in protest.

Tens of thousands of Lopez Obrador's supporters have camped out in the capital's center for a week, disrupting business and traffic to press their case that their candidate was cheated of victory in the July 2 election and to demand that all the votes be recounted....

Lopez Obrador contends he won the election and argues that a full, ballot-by-ballot recount is the only way to restore faith in Mexico's electoral system.

Calderon has expressed confidence the election was clean and fair, and European Union observers said they found no problems in the vote counting.

The protest camps in Mexico City's cultural and financial heart, the elegant Reforma Avenue and the Zocalo plaza, have snarled traffic for nearly a week.

Lopez Obrador's party controls the Mexico City government, so there is very little chance of the city trying to clear out his supporters. What will be interesting is whether the court decision will increase protests, or whether the current sit-in has turned off former supporters. As this New York Times story by James C. McKinley, Jr. suggests, the street protests are starting to annoy people:
The blockade looks more like a fair than a protest. City workers and party members have erected enormous circus-like tents the length of the avenue. There are stages where musicians entertain the protesters, and a photo exhibit of Mr. López Obrador’s life. A volleyball net had been set up, as well as a mini soccer field.

But the protest has cost Mr. López Obrador many allies, among them the leftist writer Carlos Monsivais, who believe that causing traffic jams throughout a city that voted overwhelmingly for him is going too far.

Business owners in the city center have also complained they are being hurt and have demanded the city government dislodge the protesters, to no avail. Hotel owners say their occupancy rate has dropped 50 percent this week. Restaurateurs and retailers are also hurting. The blockade is causing losses of $22 million a day, estimates the Mexico City Chamber of Commerce.


posted by Dan at 02:24 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, August 3, 2006

Drezner on Weisberg on sanctions

I've written a few articles about economic sanctions in my day.

So when someone alerted me to Jacob Weisberg's Slate essay on sanctions yesterday, I decided to take a look.

Weisberg's thesis:

A quick survey (of sanctions cases): We began our economic embargo against North Korea in 1950. We've had one against Cuba since 1962. We first applied economic sanctions to Iran during the hostage crisis in 1979 and are currently trying for international sanctions aimed at getting the government there to suspend uranium enrichment. We attached trade sanctions to Burma beginning in 1990 and froze the assets of Sudan beginning in 1997. President Bush ordered sanctions against Zimbabwe in 2003 and against Syria beginning in 2004. We have also led major international sanctions campaigns against regimes since brought down by force of arms: Milosevic's Yugoslavia, Saddam's Iraq, and Taliban Afghanistan.

America's sanctions policy is largely consistent, and in a certain sense, admirable. By applying economic restraints, we label the most oppressive and dangerous governments in the world pariahs. We wash our hands of evil, declining to help despots finance their depredations, even at a cost to ourselves of some economic growth. We wincingly accept the collateral damage that falls on civilian populations in the nations we target. But as the above list of countries suggests, sanctions have one serious drawback. They don't work. Though there are some debatable exceptions, sanctions rarely play a significant role in dislodging or constraining the behavior of despicable regimes.

Tyrants seem to understand how to capitalize on the law of unintended consequences. In many cases, as in Iraq under the oil-for-food program, sanctions themselves afford opportunities for plunder and corruption that can help clever despots shore up their position. Some dictators also thrive on the political loneliness we inflict and in some cases appear to seek more of it from us....

Constructive engagement, which often sounds like lame cover for business interests, tends to lead to better outcomes than sanctions. Trade prompts economic growth and human interaction, which raises a society's expectations, which in turn prompts political dissatisfaction and opposition. Trade, tourism, cultural exchange, and participation in international institutions all serve to erode the legitimacy of repressive regimes. Though each is a separate case, these forces contributed greatly to undermining dictatorships and fostering democracy in the Philippines, South Korea, Argentina, Chile, and Eastern Europe in the 1980s. The same process is arguably under way in China.

Weisberg makes a valid point -- as a general rule, applying sanctions against rogue states unless and until there is regime change tends not to work.

However, against this important point, let me throw in a few modifiers:

1) Sanctions with more specifically tailored demands can work against authoritarian regimes. The 1979 financial sanctions against Iran did play an important role in the release of the hostages. The U.S. and U.N. sanctions against Libya led that country to surrender suspects in several airline bombings -- and probably played a supporting role in Libya's decision to renounce its WMD program. So, if the sanctioning country can be precise in what it wants, and is willing to settle for less than regime change, sanctions have the potential to work. The flaw in America's sanctions policy is not their use, but the tendency to overestimate the concessions sanctions can generate.

2) The constructive engagement approach rests on an odd assumption -- that the leaders of a rogue state are somehow unaware that they will become trapped in a web of economic interdependence. The truth is that applying constructive engagement against rogue states as a means to induce economic and political change tends not to work either. Put crudely, if a regime wants to stay in power at all costs, all of the economic openness in the world is not going to make much difference, because the government that wants to stay in power will simply apply strict controls over trade with the outside world. If the United States were to unilaterally and unconditionally lift all barriers to exchange with Cuba, the government in Havana would immediately erect a maze of regulations designed to limit Cuban trade with the United States (and to funnel such trade towards politically reliable cronies).

This doesn't mean that the engagement strategy is always for naught -- but there are failures (South Africa) and even the successes have a dubious value (China). If someone pointed a gun to my head and asked me which strategy I'd recommend towards Cuba, for example, I'd probably recommend engagement. However, it's the difference between a strategy that has a 20% chance of success and one that has a 21% chance.

UPDATE: On sanctions policy towards Cuba in particular, see this thoughtful post from Eugene Gholz from a few months back. It pretty much matches my skepticism about both sanctions and engagement strategies towards Cuba.

posted by Dan at 11:25 PM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Iris Marion Young, R.I.P.

Henry Farrell and Larry Solum eulogize a former colleague of mine at the University of Chicago, Iris Marion Young. She passed away yesterday.

It would be safe to say that Iris and I disagreed a fair amount on matters of politics and policy. It would also be safe to say that I really did not care. Iris was one of the more decent people I've met in the academy -- indefatigable and interested in everything. Her students -- and there were many of them -- were devoted to her.

She had been suffering from cancer for the past year or so, not that this slowed her down all that much. The way she carried herself was remarkable -- not because Iris was all bulldog determination in the face of her illness and treatment, or any such maudlin sentiment. Rather, she was cheerfully unafraid to tell you exactly how she was feeling, and doing so in a way that filtered the awkwardness out of the conversation.

She was both brave and gentle, and she will be missed.

posted by Dan at 11:29 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Calling all IR scholars!!! We've got a coding problem in the Middle East!!

Guest-posting for Instapundit, Michael Totten makes a provocative statement about democratic peace theory:

This war in the Middle East nearly demolishes the theory that democracies don't go to war with each other. Lebanon, aside from Hezbollah's state-within-a-state, is a democracy. At least it's an almost-democracy. Aside from my personal affection for Lebanon, the country where I recently lived, the only country other than the US where I've ever lived, this is what anguishes me the most: The Arab world's only democracy is being torn to pieces by another democracy.
Question to the IR types in the audience: is Totten right?

The "aside from Hezbollah" is an awfully big aside. It suggests that Lebanon might better be coded as a "democratizing" state rather than a stable democracy -- and Ed Mansfield and Jack Snyder have demonstrated that democratizing states are the most violent regime type.

That said, one can argue that it is Israel, the established democracy, that expanded what had been a low-level border skirmish (by IR standards) into a war.

Given Hezbollah's role as instigator, and the failure of the Lebanese army to engage the IDF, it seems hard to code this as a violation of the democratic peace proposition. And yet, labeling this case as an exception carries the whiff of fitting the data to match the hypothesis.

Let the debate commence!!

posted by Dan at 09:07 AM | Comments (56) | Trackbacks (0)

The New York Times, they like to kid

From James McKinley Jr.'s front-page story in the New York Times, "Castro Is ‘Stable,’ but His Illness Presents Puzzle":

News that Mr. Castro had relinquished power for the first time in his 47-year rule prompted expressions of concern from leftist leaders in Latin America and set off immediate celebration among Cuban exiles in Miami.

The transfer also set off intense speculation about Cuba’s future. Raúl Castro, who has acted as defense minister for decades, made no public appearances. He is 75 years old and seems to lack the charisma, political skill and rhetorical brilliance of his brother. (emphasis added)

I'll concede that Fidel Castro must possess some charisma and ample amounts of political skill -- he's the longest-serving leader in the world, after all.

Since when, however, does the capacity to give six-hour speeches imply "rhetorical brilliance"?

There are many words that can be used to describe Castro's rhetorical style -- and "brilliance" is nowhere close to the top of that list.

posted by Dan at 08:13 AM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Dogpiling on Mel Gibson

Unlike Andrew Sullivan, I really don't have much to say about Mel Gibson's drunken, anti-Semitic, misogynist rant against the cops who pulled him over for drunken driving last week. Mostly, this is because Tim Noah framed the event pretty well in Slate:

The best case that can be made for Gibson's belief system now is that he's anti-Semitic only when he's three sheets to the wind. And really, now. Are you in the habit of declaring, "The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world" when you get pie-eyed? Or simply of muttering, "Fucking Jews"? Or of asking your arresting officer, "Are you a Jew?" (Here Gibson revealed an anti-Jewish bigotry so all-consuming that he couldn't even get his ethnic stereotypes straight. The Jews control international banking, Mel. It's the Irish who control the police.)
Well, I have two more thoughts on the matter. The first is that there needs to be a term that describes the mechanism through which the New York Times manages to run stories about scandals while claiming that they are really metastories (In the past week alone, they managed a front-pager about the Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes baby as well). To their credit, however, the Times story by Allison Hope Weiner contains this juicy tidbit: "On Monday, Hope Hartman, a spokeswoman for Disney’s ABC television network, said the company was dropping its plans to produce a Holocaust-themed miniseries in collaboration with Mr. Gibson."

Second, I'll ask my readers to suggest the likelihood of the following arc taking place:

1) Gibson repeatedly issues contrite apologies -- oh, wait, that's already happened.

2) Exiting rehab, Gibson does heartfelt interview with Diane Sawyer in which he:

a) Admits to various chemical dependencies/imbalances that affect his behavior;

b) Explains that his father's rank anti-Semitism led to psychological abuse during his childhood;

c) Cries on camera

3) Appears on Saturday Night Live to skewer his own behavior, right before;

4) Apocalypto comes out -- and then tanks; at which point either

5a) Hollywood treats Gibson as persona non grata because "it's the right thing to do"; or,;

5b) Gibson signs up for Lethal Weapon V for $15 million and Hollywood treats Gibson as "a man who learned his lsson"

posted by Dan at 11:47 AM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)

Sometimes there is no selection bias

After David Ortiz hit his latest walk-off home run, I kept telling myself like a good social scientist, "Yes, we remember these events, but we don't remember the times when he has the opportunity and fails." In other words, much as I love David Ortiz, I was sure that the statistics would demonstrate that his walk-off capabilities were overrated.

Turns out, in this case, that perception is reality. From The Joy of Sox:

Since the end of the 2004 regular season, Ortiz has come to the plate in a walk-off situations 19 times -- and reached base 16 times. He is 11-for-14 (.786), with 7 HR and 20 RBI.

In 2005 and 2006, he is 8-for-9, with 5 HR and 15 RBI!

Hat tip: Gordon Edes.

UPDATE: Bill Simmons has an enertaining column comparng Ortiz to Larry Bird in terms of coming through in the clutch:

Basketball stars have a 45-50 percent chance of coming through in the clutch. In Bird's case, he was a 50 percent shooter and a 90 percent free-throw shooter, so even if he was being double-teamed, 60/40 odds seem reasonable, especially if someone raises his game in those situations. But a star slugger gets on base 40 percent of the time, only Ortiz dials it up to the 60-70 percent range in big moments (as the stats back up). I can't believe I'm saying this, but Big Papi's current three-year stretch tops anything Bird came up with simply because the odds against Ortiz were greater.
Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Ilya Somin has a discussion thread on this very important debate.

posted by Dan at 08:53 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)